Recently, Carolina Panthers DT Andre Neblett tested positive for performance enhancement drugs. Neblett will still be allowed to participate in all offseason activities, including the training camp and the preseason games. But because Neblett violated the NFL policy of using PEDs, he’s been suspended for the first four games of the season (from NFL.com).
Though Neblett only started five games with the Panthers, this news definitely causes some concern. Many thought that the Panthers would target a defensive tackle in the NFL draft but they decided to go another route.
The Panthers defense had a pretty rough season in 2011. They especially had some difficulty in stopping the run. It wasn’t until their last few games (with the exception of the game against the New Orleans Saints) that the Panthers began to make some strides in stopping the run. According to Bryan Strickland from Panthers.com:
The Panthers allowed 146.8 rushing yards per game over the first 10 games, but even counting a dud of a finale at New Orleans, they allowed an average of 114.3 yards in the final six. Remove the 208 yards the Saints piled up while salting away a blowout victory, and the average dips to 95.6 yards per game.
Strickland went on to say that only two teams in the NFL allowed less than 95.6 yards per game, implying that the Panthers did a great job towards the end of the year.
Head coach Ron Rivera has definitely given some credit to guys like Neblett, Jason Shirley, Frank Kearse and Ogemdi Nwagbu who stepped up when rookies Sione Fua and Terrell McClain went down. Shirley, however, was waived by the Panthers and not asked to re-sign. Who knows if Shirley’s situation will change, given news of Neblett’s suspension.
And to note, Fua and McClain were also inexperienced players who needed to step up when a veteran, Ron Edwards, had a season-ending injury. The defense really suffered a lot of injuries. For instance, in the beginning of the season, both Thomas Davis and Jon Beason also had season-ending injuries. Having all these guys back alone should make some serious improvements to the defense.
But with Neblett out, the Panthers might still need to make some adjustments. In their first four games of the 2012 season, the Panthers will face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants and the Atlanta Falcons.
Don’t get me wrong, with Edwards, Davis and Beason back and the addition of Luke Kuechly, the Panthers defense will definitely improve. But Neblett was starting to shine and it’d be nice if the Panthers could start the 2012 season at full strength. I’m confident though that Rivera and his team will find a way to overcome this.
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