The nose tackle position is perennially the most unsung hero on the Carolina Panthers front seven even though success or failure at that spot is crucial to the workings of the entire unit. The man in this job is given the unenviable task of being blocked by two large men on just about any play, and is expected to hold his ground at a minimum or even beat the double from time to time. On passing downs he’s expected to drive the middle of the pocket backward so that the under tackle or defensive ends can close on the quarterback without him being able to break the pocket up the gut.
These responsibilities require a gifted athlete but also a strong and large one, lending to why the market for a good nose tackle has become more expensive in recent years. Dontari Poe was one of the most impressive performers at the 2012 NFL combine. He ran a 4.98 40 yard dash weighing in at close to 350 pounds, while also setting the top overall mark on the bench press at 44 reps.
While Star Lotulelei is no slouch either, he does weigh a solid 30 pounds less than Dontari does, and is viewed by many as a UT/NT hybrid rather than a pure nose tackle. If it weren’t for running mate Kawann Short being so amazing, we might have seen Star get more reps at that spot. The fact of the matter is that Poe is stronger than Star and weighs more, but doesn’t give up ground in how agile he is either.
But making KK, and really everyone else in the front seven better is what we really need from this position. It’s no coincidence that KK had his best statistical years while Star was more dominant, or that Luke Kuechly wasn’t quite as impressive this year as he normally is, because we simply didn’t get the level of play at the nose tackle spot that we’d grown accustomed to. As good as both Short and Kuechly are, they can be even better given proper support up front (truly a scary/incredible thought). A great nose tackle keeps linemen off of linebackers, and keeps your best pass rushers in one on one situations, freeing them up to do the most damage.
Detractors would say that Poe isn’t as effective now as he was earlier in his career. Some Falcons fans would say (now that he is signing with us) that he was not as good for them as he could have been. I would put forth the idea that Poe is now entering one of the best situations in his career, if not the absolute best. Here in Carolina, we won’t need him on the field 75% of the game, and top to bottom he will be surrounded by more defensive talent than he was when he worked farther south on I-85. Looking at a front featuring Mario Addison, Kawann Short, Julius Peppers, Shaq Thompson, Luke Kuechly, and Thomas Davis around him... it would be hard to argue against that statement.
What I know for sure is that I was very skeptical about the prospect of Vernon Butler starting at the nose position. He’s another hybrid DT, but on the scale of UT vs NT, he definitely leans more toward the UT side of things. He also doesnt have a track record of mostly solid play like Star Lotulelei does. But in the stroke of a pen, the whole situation is different now. Adding Dontari Poe to the roster makes us better, without a doubt... and I wouldnt be surprised to see a very overwhelming defensive line bring the pain next season.