I think the defense will be the strength of the team with our head coach being on the defensive side and we have invested 3 top 2 round picks to the defense in the past 2 years. Rivera should relinquish control of the defense and let McDermott take full control. It's hard to step out from the shadow of a legend such as the late, great Jim Johnson. After a few years McDermott has improved tremendously but he hasn't had a great D-line like he does now. Monsters Inc. will be the first line of defense and they will be expected to perform. A Starlite has the Big Money ticket that will have O-lines drawing the Short end of Da Kraken.
The D-line starts with Big Money/Nessie. He is one of the few that got a Hurneyistic extension and lived up to the crazy generous contract the he signed. C.J. is the Panther's most consistent pass rusher since the departure of the one that will not be named. He was pretty awesome last year with 7 fumbles and 12.5 sacks. Nessie is versatile in that he is also the d-lines best run stuffer. Chuck will likely face less chip blocks from the tight end and running backs since some crazy Panthers fan summoned DA Kraken. The Nessie will most likely will have a pro bowl season with the additions of the celestial body otherwise known as a Star and drawing the Short straw pushing O-lines into their skill players.
The Minotaur(Short) could be perhaps as big of steal in the draft as the Hydra(Star). According to http://www.nfldraftgeek.com/kawannshortscoutingreport.html here is a list of his pros and cons:
- Outstanding overall quickness allows him to split gaps and blow past blockers
- Use his hands exceptionally well to chop down blockers arms
- Plays with good balance, leverage, and pad level
- Strong upper body and long arms make for effective bull rush
- Excellent burst off the snap
- Versatile skill set, fits in any defensive scheme
- Leader; team captain past two years at Purdue
- Could improve his gap integrity; tendency to run himself out of position
- Experienced and reliable; started every game all four years at Purdue
- Sharp hand technique as a rusher; rip, swim, club, and even spin move are effective
- Prototypical height (6'3"), bulk (300 lbs), and arm length (34 3/4") for 3 Technique DT
- Stacks and sheds blockers well in run support
- Doesn't have the strongest anchor
- Motor is not as consistent as you would like; will occasionally take plays off
- Stamina may be an issue; sometimes wears down
The Minotaur seems to be outstanding an outstanding prospect as his only deficiencies are "doesn't have the strongest anchor...occasionally takes plays off...stamina may be an issue" which can easily explained away with he constantly double teamed as the only threat on a Purdue defense. The plethora of moves including the club, swim, bull rush, and supposedly even the spin move makes him a threat to start right away especially along with this next fact The man/bull was the best in college football over the last 3 years at destroying the ball carrier behind the line totaling 45.5 times. But alas, the Minotaur is only half of the monstrous duo on the interior line with Panthers wish came true on draft day for a falling Star.
Star Lotulelei could have easily been a top 5 pick but the mysterious heart condition that was never there landed a huge gift in the Panthers lap on draft day. His DeathStar size will instantly help keep Luke Skywalker free to battle the evil empires that are opposing offenses. Here's some of his scouting report from http://www.nfl.com/draft/2013/profiles/star-lotulelei?id=2539329
Powerful and agile starting nose tackle prospect. Versatile enough to play almost all interior defensive line positions across many types of fronts. Often the first player off the snap, will challenge the hand and foot quickness of guards inside. When choosing to bull rush, gets under his man's pads and churns his legs to push him backward. Thick arms eat up ball carriers coming into his path. Quick feet and a bit of short-area speed to spin off blocks inside and follow plays across the field. Flashes arm-over move to penetrate. Recognize screens and track them down, also willing to move down the line while engaged. Greatly improved on reading blocking schemes, locating the football, and disengaging over his last two seasons.
WeaknessesInconsistent keeping his eyes in the backfield to find the ball and being violent with his hands to shed, but has improved here and is a dominant run-stopper when he does. Will get pressure, but probably won't be a dominant sack artist at the next level due to how he'll be used. Lacks flexibility to break down on open-field tackles, ball carriers can elude him in the backfield. Does not beat cut blocks with his hands, though he does a good job recovering for his size, gets back into the play.
If the Hydra lives up to the top 5 pick hype than the Panthers have hopefully just found their future starter for the next 8-10 years. I'm mainly optimistic although try to keep in grounded in reality. I certainly don't think our massive luminous sphere of plasma will be challenging for defensive rookie of the year awards but his presence should help Luke "the clean up" Kuechly have a running at defensive player of the year. He will take up space and occupy blockers to allow our other half the defensive end Greg "Kra...kra...DA KRAKEN!" Hardy.
This mystical but charismatic creature affectionately called Da Kraken has risen to extreme popularity on CSR even creating a profile. This is his contract year so he should be on best behavior and be on rampant mythical beast mode. Although he's done some pretty dumb stuff(Bentley photo anyone?) he's never actually gotten in trouble for any of it so it shouldn't hurt his contract negotiations. It's better to be lucky than good...sometimes. Our black spiced rum almost had Carson Palmer's liver removed by a LEGAL HIT! I'm not resentful. Sir Hardy should equal or surpass his 2012 totals of 11 sacks and 2 fumbles. Hardy has certainly surpassed his draft position will be earning a nice paycheck next year hopefully it's from the Panthers.
Key Rotational players
Dwan "The Phoenix" Edwards- He had a rebirth and a career year for the panthers that even warranted us resigning him to a 2-year deal. He had 6 sacks and 52 total tackles but I surely don't see him reaching those numbers again now that he may not be starting for long. Dwan showed himself to be an above average pass rusher but a below average run defender. He should be used mostly on passing downs.
Frank "Leviathan" Alexander- Technically Frank the Tank is a 4th round pick but for us he is a wondrous 3rd round pick make by the draft day barter king Hurney. Although not a bad pick in my opinion as he was a solid rotational player with a meager 18 total tackles and 2.5 sacks. He only saw spot duty as a rookie so I won't give a final judgement. He will give rest to Da Kraken and Nessie this year so hopefully they won't disappear in the 4th quarter. Depending on how Da Kraken and Leviathan perform affects if we try to keep Da Kraken or or if we already have his replacement on the roster.
If I were an opposing scout:
The youth and inexperience on the interior line seems to be the weakness because it sure isn't talent as the Panthers have arguably a top 5 front 4 with the emergence of Greg Hardy and double-dipping at DT with their 1st 2 picks in the draft. Draws, misdirections, and screens would get the rookies out of position and gassed. Charles Johnson isn't a speed rusher so PA bootlegs to the right should be featured. Greg Hardy has shown flashes as a great pass rusher but can disappear late in the game if he gets gassed. The 3rd and long will likely consist of a rotation but the one I would worry about is a Hardy, Short, Edwards, Johnson. They all have at least above average pass rushing moves and if Short turns out to be the best pure pass rushing DT in the draft this year than the Panthers will rarely have to blitz. Everyone knows that the weakness is on the back end of this defense but to attack it you need to get past the front 7. The Panthers rode their front 7 and a running attack to a SB appearance and it certainly seems that's the way that they're building their defense.
Charles Johnson(RE) - Great Bull rush and inside power move. Definitely not an outside speed rusher but a stout run defender. With 7 forced fumbles, when he gets to the ball he can take it away. He's probably not the elite talent that the fanbase thinks he is but he plays at a high level due to his technique and strength. By himself would not be so worrisome but there is the rest of the line
Kwann Short(UT) - A Rookie is always a target for an opposing line and a 2nd round pick clearly has a bullseye on him. He wears down quickly so I would run right at him early and often with double teams until he hits the rookie wall. He was a TFL extraordinaire in college so use misdirection, screens, and draws to catch him out of position once he wore down.
Star Lotulelei (NT) - Another rookie with a slightly smaller target on him as he was thought a sure top 5 pick but managed to slip into the, bewildered with their good luck, hands of the Panthers. Star hasn't had the conditioning of a full NFL season so run right at him until he hopefully wears down. Toss plays and screens to get him out in space running will certainly burn his gas up pretty quickly, then run right at his gap. Star is a powerful run stuffer that will need to be neutralized with 2 lineman early so he doesn't collapse the pocket with his strength. His biggest weakness is making plays in space so again toss plays and screens until he's huffing and puffing.
Greg Hardy (LE) - The best outside rusher of the bunch, he is a great compliment to C.J. Hardy struggled with stopping the run in 2011but made strides to become adequate. His pass rushing makes up for it as he has a great speed rush, bull rush and inside power rush to keep lineman guessing. His versatility allows him so slip into UT in some passing situations. His weakness is run defense so run right at him and success may just follow.
Early in the game I would run mostly sweeps, tosses, screens, draws, and misdirections to get the d-line running sideline to sideline to huffing and puffing on the sideline. As the game progresses I would start by running right at Greg Hardy and Short as they seem to be the weakest run defenders. Quick slants and short to medium crossing routes will keep the line from being able to tee off on pass rushing. The offense will be geared toward taking advantage of the rookie tackles. This line will have ups and downs as the rookies have success and failure. This line is certainly one of the best in the league but doesn't have the depth of the Bengals. The depth is also a key weakness of the d-line and making the hog mollies run 15 yards to catch a WR screen that could get 5 yards could be extremely effective. This line could utterly be dominant or disappear in the 4th quarter. It could all depend on injuries and how the rookies fare against grown man competition. They will certainly be better in years to come especially if they somehow get Hardy resigned.
Next week: Linebackers: An overview