CSR 2013 Position Review: Linebackers

MLB Luke Kuechly stretching out during the preseason of his rookie year. - Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE

CSR begins its offseason positions reviews in advance of 2013 training camp, taking a look at the linebackers now.

If you had to point at one definitive strength of the Panthers defense, you would be hard pressed to find a position that is as talented as their corp of linebackers. Led by the reigning AP Defensive Rookie of the Year Luke Kuechly at MLB, this unit is one of the best in the league. With their starters all locked up, additions this offseason all fall into the depth category, looking to solidify a special teams unit that has struggled in recent years.

Luke Kuechly

Luke will definitely look to start in the middle this year, which was always his more natural position. It's possible the batton for leader of the defense could pass to the young Kuechly as swiftly as it passed to Beason in much the similar fashion when Dan Morgan went down with injury.

Probablity to Start at MLB: 100%

Jon Beason

Coming off 3 surgeries in a 17 month span, Beason looks to return to the dominate form he displayed in 2009 before being robbed of the last two seasons of his career. For Beason though, he will have to move to the outside as Kuechly is firmly entrenched in at MLB. So Beason will move to the outside... but where? All signs point to him moving over to Thomas Davis's slot at WLB, which would make Davis the SLB. That would certainly be his preference as it was his position as a rookie before Morgan was injured and Davis does have experience playing on the strong side.

Still, there is a chance that they may see Davis more suited to the weak side, in which case Beason would have to take on an entirely new position. It's all about finding which setup works out best for the Panthers.

Probability to Start at WLB: 90%, Probability to Start at SLB: 10%

Thomas Davis

In any other year, Davis would have been a shoe-in for comeback player of the year after his 2012 performance. He was absolutely phenominal while contributing from the bench, but once Beason was lost and he was forced back into a starting role, he seemed to turn up his game even more, looking just like the TD we saw on track to a Pro Bowl before 3 sets of ACL tears kept him out.

Like I just discussed, it's likely Beason will move to the weak side, which puts Davis at the starting strong side role for the first time in his career, if my memory serves me correctly. Davis does have some experience in this position, moving over for certain packages, but the real question is going to be if he'll be as effective at SLB as he was at WLB. We'll have to see.

Probability to Start at SLB: 90%, Probability to Start at WLB: 10%

Jordan Senn

The Senn-master has been with the Panthers for a long time now. He's been one of the better back-ups in the league, filling in admirably when asked and contributing to special teams as the team's special teams captain. Last season, he was second in special teams tackles to only Jason Phillips, who is no longer with the team. For at least one more year, Senn will be back though unless he becomes a surprise camp cut which has claimed previous linebackers in his shoes.

Probability to Start: 1%, Probability to make the Roster: 80%

Chase Blackburn

In an effort to improve a special teams unit that has been absolutely dismal for about as long as I can remember now, the Panthers brought in Chase Blackburn from the NY Giants this offseason. A former UDFA in 2005, Chase was a solid special teams contributor, being elected as the special teams captain in 2010, but he would see time as a starter in some big games, picking off Tom Brady in the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl, which led to the a Giants victory. Again, it's not likely for him to break into the starting line-up, but his contributions on special teams will be a welcome addition.

Probability to Start: 1%, Probability to make the Roster: 90%

AJ Klein

The rookie out of Iowa State is likely the last player who is guaranteed to stick to the Panthers roster. By all accounts, he sounds very similar to Luke Kuechly, leading some to call him a poor man's Kuechly. Klein will probably see a lot of time on special teams for the moment, but some conventional wisdom has suggested that this pick might actually signal that the Panthers are preparing to part ways with Jon Beason. We'll have to see how he performs in camp, pre-season, and games, but the chance is there.

Probability to make the Roster: 100%

Jason Williams

Williams had a tumultuous season last year. He was waived by the Panthers during the final roster cutdown and picked up by the Philidelphia Eagles. However, it wasn't long before the Eagles cut him and he found himself claimed of waivers by the Panthers again. The question becomes now whether or not he'll stick through to the final 53 man roster and truthfully it's hard to say. He's another special teams contributor, but even with the departure of Jason Phillips, other additions might reduce the need for his services barring an injury.

Probability to make the Roster: 50%

Doug Hogue

A former 5th round draft pick by the Lions in 2011, Hogue spent most of his time with Detroit as a special teams contributor. With Jason Phillips leaving the team for the Eagles, there is a spot open for a special teams contributor, which it's no doubt that Williams and Hogue will be fighting for. Depending on how many LBs they decide to carry, neither Hogue or Williams may end up making the squad. This will be a numbers game toward the end of the pre-season.

Probability to make the Roster: 50%

Ben Jacobs

Another depth signing, Jacobs was a practice squad player for the Browns for several years, the second of two Cleveland cast offs the Panthers have picked up this offseason for their LB depth. As reported by BW Smith, Jacobs is most likely a camp body who has the chance to stick to the practice squad, but little else.

Probability to make the Roster: 5%, Probability to make the Practice Squad: 50%

Ryan Rau

An UDFA in 2012, Ryan Rau made his way onto the Eagles' practice squad and eventually to the active roster last year, but was cut last April. The very next day, he was claimed by the Browns, but the Browns would end up releasing him where the Panthers would then claim him yesterday (as of this writing).

There's little chance that Rau will see the field in 2013, and to be fair, I have doubts he'll end up on the 53 man roster, but it's possible he could impress coaches and make his way onto the practice squad.

Probability to make the Roster: 5%, Probability to make the Practice Squad: 50%

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