2013 Carolina Panthers position review: defensive tackle

Who cares about defensive tackles? These ladies get an A+! - Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Ah, what a difference a year makes… Today we are going to review the position in which we saw the most appreciable improvement this season. You guessed it; we’re talking about those big ol’ “hog-mollies” Dave Gettleman loves so much, namely, our defensive tackles.

Star Lotulelei

Defensive Statistics: 620/1036 for 59.8% of defensive snaps, 48 total tackles, 3 sacks

I still have those moments from time to time where I think “holy crap, did we really get Star?” His selection in the first round of last year’s draft was the nexus between the team’s biggest need and BPA, and literally could not have worked out better for the Carolina Panthers.

On the field he was a revelation. His strength at the point of attack is out of this world and his presence immediately changed the culture of the defense, clogging up running lanes and keeping the riff-raff out of Kuechly’s face, allowing him to be a more dynamic playmaker instead of a glorified running back chaser.

As the icing on the cake, Star provided more of a pass-rush than most pundits would have expected, logging 3 sacks from the nose tackle position. His first step is very quick, and if he continues to develop his pass-rushing technique (something he was never really pushed to develop at Utah) then he could become the kind of dual-threat monster that defensive coordinators until now have only been able to dream of.

Grade: A+

Kawann Short

Defensive Statistics: 528/1036 for 50.9% of defensive snaps, 35 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery

Technically, Short was not considered a starter for a single game in his rookie season. However, I have listed him second as he played the most defensive snaps behind only Star, and it wasn’t even close.

The decision by Gettleman to double dip in the first two rounds last year was not universally agreed with, but it is hard to argue with the results. In the course of one offseason, the Panthers defense morphed into one of the top-3 defenses in the league.

As a second round pick, Short was expected to come in and be a solid contributor, and he was. Sure, we can nitpick and say we wanted more pass-rush out of him, but we would have to temper that with the fact that he exceeded expectations as a run defender.

His volume of snaps was not what you would expect out of a guy many people expected to be a situational pass rusher, but what you would expect out of a 3-down defensive lineman. This tells me that the coaches believe in KK, and the idea of he and Star gumming up the middle for the next 10 years or so is a very exciting prospect.

Dave Gettleman essentially decided last year that he didn’t want to worry about defensive tackles no more, and as Forrest Gump would say, “That’s good. One less thing.”

Grade: B

Dwan Edwards

Defensive Statistics: 343/1036 for 33.1% of defensive snaps, 22 total tackles, 3 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries

Last year, Dwan Edwards had a career year at the ripe old age of 31. He came out of nowhere to provide a much needed pass-rush from the interior line, and exceeded pretty much everyone’s expectations.

With his injury history, the fact that he was aging, and no way to know if the performance was an outlier, Dave Gettleman didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on two long-term answers at Dwan’s position. With Dwan missing another 5 games to injury in his 9th season, the two rookies stepped up and Dwan filled the role of situational pass rusher that we had expected Short to fill.

Even though his stats dropped significantly due to missed time, Dwan still managed to accrue 3 sacks in limited time and produced 2 key turnovers. He was asked to do a job, and he did it. He isn’t getting any younger, and he will likely never replicate his performance from 2012, but he has been more to this team to date than we ever had a reason to expect, and for that he gets graded accordingly.

Grade: C+

Colin Cole

Defensive Statistics: 316/1036 for 30.5% of defensive snaps, 17 total tackles, 1 sack

For some odd reason, though he is older and was much less effective on the field than his younger counterparts, Cole “started” 12 games for the Panthers in 2013.

Perhaps the coaches didn’t want to put more pressure on Kawann Short by giving him “starter” status, or maybe they worried it would go to his head and negatively affect the work ethic so many draftniks questioned leading up to the draft... Who knows?

Regardless, Cole was highly ineffective when on the field, graded poorly on a consistent basis by PFF, and by all rights should not “start” another game for the Panthers. The best that could be said is that Cole was a “serviceable” role-player, but if he enters the 2014 season as any more than depth we should all be very surprised.

Grade: C-

Sione Fua

Defensive Statistics: 53/1036 for 5.1% of defensive snaps, 53 pancakes received

Yes, yes, Sione Fua is a CSR whipping boy, but man he gives us a lot of great material, amirite? Even I was surprised when I began researching for this article that Fua did not log a single measurable statistic in 53 snaps. Not a tackle. Not a pass deflection. Not a fumble recovery. Nothing.

Jon DeLong explained to me that Fua was credited with a single QB hit, but I am suspicious that whoever was blocking him on that play probably just pulled Fua backward into the pocket because he was tired of running over him every play. Luckily our resident CSR Fictional Stat Expert, Evan Leekley, has informed me that Fua ranked first in the NFL in the advanced metric for pancakes received. Bravo, Sione, bravo…

Grade: F-

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