Let's Not Forget Panthers Returning #2 Defense

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

I'm thinking people are way too focused on who left the Panthers instead of looking at who is returning. In particular the Panthers return the core of a defense that was #2 in the NFL and the primary reason they went 12-4 in 2013.

This post is a follow-up to my recent post showing how the national pundits are expecting the Panthers to fall back into mediocrity in 2014. The reasoning most give is the loss of four receivers, a left tackle and three defensive backs.

We've already discussed the fact the Panthers have added comparable players at wide receiver in Cotchery, Avant and Underwood. Based on reports from other teams these three will not only be able to replace the production at WR but also the locker room leadership. In particular I'm referring to Jason Avant. Hat tip to Robert Russ for this gem, who heard this on ESPN:

The bigger departure, reading between the lines of what Maclin said and didn’t say, was slot receiver Jason Avant, a valued leader in the locker room. When the Eagles released Avant early last month after eight seasons, the team took the unusual step of publicizing statements from owner Jeffrey Lurie, general manager Howie Roseman and Kelly, all of whom praised Avant as a valued member of the organization.

Maclin said other players in the locker room would have to "pick up that slack" and teach younger players how Avant handled work ethic and leadership. "I’m going to try to be one of those guys, for sure," Maclin said. It is another of the many responsibilities the Eagles’ new No. 1 receiver will have to assume this season if the team hopes to replicate the success it had when Maclin was sidelined last season.

I think it says a lot that Avant stayed with the team so long as a complimentary receiver. The Eagles loss is our gain.

Yet the focus on the Panthers should instead be on the defense and the players returning. Consider this, the Panthers return the players responsible for this level of production:

2014 2013 Total % Returning
Sacks 49 60 82%
Tackles 644 1005 64%
INTs 12 20 60%

The majority of the loss in production is coming from three players: Mike Mitchell, Quinton Mickell and Captain Munnerlyn. While those three guys had good seasons who actually thought our secondary was a quality secondary this time last season? Umm, that would be no one. Hell Mickell is still looking for a 2014 team if that tells you anything.

It really boils down to a single position in my view: left tackle. If the Panthers can add some depth at offensive tackle then this team can be even better than last year's version. Is any other team receiving such dire predictions simply because they need a left tackle?

Instead of basing predictions on the personnel losses consider instead those returning who will also have another year of experience and should be even better. Players like Luke, Star, Kawann Short, AJ Klein, Melvin White, and Robert Lester.

Add in the key vets like Hardy, CJ, TD, Godfrey and Edwards and this is still a top 3 defense.

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