We have reached the 2nd biggest question entering Panthers camp.
In 2011 the defensive tackles were terrible, there's no other way to say it. After Ron Edwards went down the only option was to thrust Terrell McClain and Sione Fua into rookie starting roles they weren't prepared for. This applies not just at a technical level, but physically they weren't big enough, conditioned well enough, or prepared for the rigors of a full NFL season. This caused a terrible situation where early in the season the rookies had the conditioning, but not the skill, then late in the year they started to flash the skill, but their conditioning wasn't there. It was a problem around the league where rookie DTs struggled as a whole due to the lack of a full offseason, and access to conditioning programs.
In 2012 Ron Edwards is back; McClain and Fua get a full offseason to put the work in, so this should be the time where they really take that step forward. A few months ago the situation looked a lot cleared than it does now. The decision to part ways with Jason Shirley, coupled with Andre Neblett's ill-timed positive test for PEDs really left the position in the lurch.
More after the jumpFollowing day one of training camp yesterday we got a better sense for how the position would shape up. At NT Ron Edwards took approximately 65% of the first team snaps, with Sione Fua getting the remaining reps. Terrell McClain was locked, and cemented in that starting job for the whole day.
Whether it was a product of being in the doghouse, or lack of confidence in him-- but Andre Neblett only really took snaps with the third team. There were some occasions where he was paired with Fua on the second line, but he was not featured as heavily as we may think.
Ron Edwards looked great in practice yesterday, and will be the lynchpin to the entire defensive line. You can tell what a difference it makes to have a veteran presence on the line. As long as he can remain healthy, his leadership alone will pay dividends this season.
As important as Ron Edwards is, perhaps Terrell McClain will be the most vital. He will be charged with being the primary pass rusher at DT, and thankfully he looks a lot leaner and faster. He looked season-ready yesterday, and carried his weight fantastically. Displaying more violent hands than last year should really help.
It's safe to say that Ron Edwards and Terrell McClain will be you're starters, but the depth looks better this year. The coaching staff were vocal with Sione Fua as he made several good plays yesterday, and will get some chances to be rotated in. The Panthers defense relies on them being solid, and hopefully they'll fit the bill in 2012.