Panthers position preview: Defensive Tackle

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The most recent installment of our position breakdown focuses on the big-nasties.

Once a glaring weakness on the Panthers' defense, the defensive tackle group has become an unquestioned strength. The tide began to turn with the 2012 training camp acquisition of UT Dwan Edwards. Edwards went on to bolster the interior pass rush, collecting 6.0 sacks in 14 starts that year.

Then, in 2013, the 'tide' turned into a full-on monsoon with the free agent signing of NT Colin Cole, and more importantly the drafting of NT/UT/Godzilla Star Lotulelei along with UT Kawann Short.

With DE Greg Hardy's ability to move inside in passing situations, the four aforementioned defensive tackles essentially comprise the entire interior rotation. But, depending on the opponent, these four players will be used in different combinations with a varying number of snaps. And despite the tone of this piece, there are other DTs on the roster. Perhaps one or more of them break into the rotation in 2014?

Typically in this series, we will theorize the likelihood (in a percentage) of each player starting and/or making the roster. This practice might be a little too cut and dry for the defensive tackle position, since it rotates as much or more than any position on the field. So, in this installment there will be a percentage of making the roster, followed by a percentage of 'making the rotation,' if you will. Let us begin:

Star Lotulelei

You could argue that no single player is as vital to the Panthers' defensive success as Star (and them's big words seeing as the reigning DPOY lines up behind him). Star's presence inside is undeniable. Quick of the snap and otherworldly powerful, he dominates guards and centers in the run game, and is developing some craft in the passing game as well.

With very little change at other positions, Star could be almost solely responsible for the Panthers' new-found success in defending the run last season. After finishing 14th against the run in 2013, the Star-led Panthers improved to 2nd in 2014, allowing a paltry 86 yards per game.

Chance of making the team: 99.9%. Chance of making the rotation: 99.9%.

Kawann Short

After posting what appear to be average numbers in 2013, Short is looking to nail down the starting UT spot this season. Behind his "average" 2013 numbers, you will see a player who led all Panthers defensive tackles in QB pressures... You will see a huge redzone fumble he forced against the Patriots on Monday Night Football... And you will see a player the Panthers' front office and coaching staff is giddy about.

Just as important as Star is to defending the run, Kawaan could be that important to defending the pass. As great as the Panthers' DEs are, they rely on interior pressure so they can thrive against one-on-one matchups on the outside... Young Kawaan can give them this.

Chance of making the team: 99.9%. Chance of making the rotation: 99.9%.

Dwan Edwards

Even late in his career, Dwan Edwards possess unique quickness and explosiveness off the line. He uses his hands quite well, and has the ability to counter if he is initially stymied. He is adequate against the run, but right now his best role is as a situational pass rusher. Even with his limitations, he is a valuable member of the rotation. Unless a young unheralded guy steps up in Spartanburg, there's really now way (barring injury, of course) Dwan isn't in the rotation.

Chance of making the team: 90%. Chance of making the rotation: 90%.

Colin Cole

Cole was re-signed this offseason after playing in 15 games (starting most of them) in 2013. With the NT position, you aren't going to be blown away by production (as his 9 tackles, 1 sack and 1 TFL certainly doesn't do), but it's hard to argue with the team's success -- which was accomplished while he was on the field.

Okay, frankly I think Cole was not very good and should be replaced as soon as possible, but 335lbs guys who can eat-up a double team don't grow on trees, so replacing him is not that simple. That said, don't be surprised to see another NT type break into the rotation. If not, perhaps Star plays NT almost exclusively, as Kawann and Dwan share the UT spot.

Chance of making the team: 75%. Chance of making the rotation: 75%. (He'll play if he makes the 53.)

Linden Gaydosh

The 23 year-old Canadian is an intriguing prospect. He was signed last offseason after being the 1st overall selection in the CFL draft. He made it through several rounds of cuts, but was put on IR after suffering a small injury late in camp (this is akin to a red-shirt year). The 6' 4" 290 pound under tackle has decent athleticism and a frame that could add a little more weight. Regardless, Gaydosh remains a project... One that need to show some development in camp to stay around another season.

Change of making the team: 40%. Chance of making the rotation: 10%. Practice Squad: 75%.

Drake Nevis, Shaq Rowell and Casey Walker

Three first or second year (Walker) players who are essentially camp bodies. They will share third team and scout team reps throughout training camp. One or more of them could certainly flash some brilliance, but it's not something that should be expected nor counted upon.

Chance that any of these three make the roster: 10%. Chance of making the rotation: 5%. Practice Squad: 25%.

Discuss...

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