Former Ravens Free Safety Haruki Nakamura will most likely be the Panthers biggest splash in free agency this year, but it came at arguably the team's biggest area of need.
After second-year Free Safety Sherrod Martin regressed last year - some might even say inexplicably forgot how to tackle - it became clear Safety would be a position targeted by the Panthers either in the Draft or free agency, and Hurney, Rivera, et al apparently found their man in Nakamura, a four-year veteran of the Ravens Defense and Special Teams units.
The Charlotte Observer's Joe Person has already reported Nakamura is expected to compete with Martin for the starting nod in Training Camp. I look forward to this battle of power versus finesse.
Nakamura may be a career back-up thus far, but who wouldn't get stuck behind future Hall of Famer Ed Reed in the vaunted Ravens defense? His special teams expertise indicates he brings the one quality to the table that was severely lacking last year - open-field tackling in the back end of the defense.
His physical presence and tackling aptitude will allow the team a dimension it sorely lacked last year.
To be fair to Martin, this will be a battle in training camp, and I'm not completely convinced Nakamura can cover as much ground or play the ball as well as the embattled incumbent. However, Nakamura's good instincts and sure-tackling are likely to overshadow the two or three acrobatic plays a year you get out of Martin. Thus, I predict Nakamura comes out on top. (More after the jump...)
It's important to understand, Nakamura isn't just coming out of nowhere with his bid to become a starting Safety in the League. For the duration of his rookie contract, he sat behind Reed and learned, and provided solid relief at the position while making his mark on special teams. Sounds like just the kind of bargain bin grinder-type we're looking for to break out, and I wouldn't doubt our staff molding him into an Eric Weddle-type impact player now that he's out from underneath.
Furthermore, Martin's poor tackling is legendary on Cat Scratch Reader, but something I found also troubling was the frequency at which Martin was on the field. I'd have to guess 90-95 percent, and guess that hurt his tackling late in games (see at Indy).. I don't expect Martin to be cut outright from the team, and hope that he can be used in a more limited role that takes advantage of his range and coverage skills, possibly even seeing action as an emergency corner.
All that said, Nakamura is only the second most-coveted Ravens' backup defender for the Panthers in my mind, and I'd like to sell you on one more guy who remains dangling out there after backing a future Hall of Famer - Ray Lewis.
Before you say anything, I know we've signed a linebacker and there are a lot of holes, but if there's anyway we could bring this guy home - I think we should.
Ravens Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe is a former Richmond Raider, where he was AP All-State. Pigskin fans in Charlotte may know the Raiders as the little country school 45 minutes away in Rockingham that only comes to the city to whoop Indepence at Memorial Stadium. Guilty as charged, and this school has produced some major athletes over the years to go along with those state titles.
Ellerbe may be the most impressive of them to this avid Raider fan, though, and I know the Panthers could use a little bit of that "Raider Magic."
Ellerbe and Nakamura team up for a tackle. via www3.pictures.zimbio.com
From Richmond County, he went on to redshirt a year at Georgia before playing four years, and compiling some impressive statistics. His career line read 148 tackels (95 solo), 8.5 sacks (-57 yards), 3 INT's, 2 FR's and 1 FF.
In 2009, Ellerbe was the only undrafted rookie free agent to make the Ravens roster, and has played his way into an increasing role during his time there until he relieved Lewis this year. His career line reads 84 tackles (59 solo), 1 sack, 1 INT, 5 PD, 1 FR AND 14 special teams tackles. Let's just say some of those special teams hits would've earned homeboy a sizeable unreported roster bonus in some nether-regions of the NFC South.
Last year, in a limited role, Ellerbe netted 29 tackles (22 solo), a sack and a pass defended. Sound like Dan Conner at all to you? This is the perfect guy to spell Jon Beason, now that we got insurance on TD with our previous Linebacker signing.
Furthermore, imagine having two inside backer types to run in those obvious passing downs when we want to move players around and institute 3-4 principles.
I've actually read a couple of different things about his status. I understand that he's a restricted free agent but it looks like it's really low and the team wouldn't receive any compensation if he signed. If anyone finds anything else I'd be inclined to believe them, as I've seen a couple of descriptions, but I'm writing on the premise that's the deal.
I admit I'm a homer, but this wouldn't be like bringing Trent Guy into Camp - though I pulled hard for him too. Whaddaya think?