Carolina Panthers' Jon Beason: Is He Still the Same Linebacker?

Charles Edwards@@CEdwards80Contributor IOctober 2, 2012

Sep 30, 2011; Atlanta, GA, USA; Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Jon Beason (52) misses a tackle on Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) during the first quarter at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-US PRESSWIRE

There was a time when the Carolina Panthers defense was one of the best units in the NFL.

It was during this time that players like Thomas Davis, Ma'ake Kemoeatu, Chris Gamble and Julius Peppers were synonymous with a top-tier defensive unit. In addition to this group, there was also an intense linebacker named Jon Beason.

Drafted in 2007, Beason became a full-time starter the following season after filling in for the injured Dan Morgan during his rookie year. The young man from the University of Miami tallied 140 tackles in his rookie year, and the rest is history.

A three-time Pro Bowler, Beason helped lead the defense and was one of the few bright spots of a dismal 2010 season that saw the Panthers finish 2-14. If anything, he was solid and dependable.

Then, in 2011, he injured his Achilles tendon and missed 15 games of that season. The defense struggled in his absence, as his leadership was sorely missed.

He returned this year, and after being held out of the preseason as a precaution, and he performed admirably in the season opener at Tampa Bay with 10 tackles. The following week against the New Orleans Saints, his numbers dwindled slightly, though he did have the late interception that secured the win for Carolina.

Since that game, Beason's production has gone down, and he has logged 10 tackles the past two weeks. Compared to recent years and the first two games of the season, it seems as though he is regressing.

To be fair, at his current rate, he will finish the season with 108 tackles; a respectable total, but considerably lower compared to previous seasons in which he started 16 games.

It warrants mention that with the struggles of the defense as a whole, Beason's on-field productivity has been overshadowed by the defensive line and secondary issues. 

Consider the following: In 2010, he had 36 tackles through four games and finished the season with a total of 121. In 2009, he had fewer tackles through the first four games but set a career-high with 141 at season's end.

The year before that was very similar, with Beason recording 32 tackles after the first four games and finishing with 138.

It's a small sample, but based on past trends, should the Panthers be concerned about his productivity the rest of the way and beyond?

Granted, one needs to take into consideration the injury Beason is returning from. Perhaps the Achilles is affecting his defensive numbers.

If Beason's numbers were compared to fellow linebackers James Anderson and Luke Kuechly, he would finish second in tackles. Based on the same sample of games played, Anderson would finish with 132 tackles and Kuechly with 104.

Beason is on pace to fall 29 tackles short of his average for a season.

There could be a number of reasons behind his low productivity. It could be a fluke. It could be the overall play of the defense. It could be reservations about re-injuring his Achilles and missing more time. Maybe Beason is just having an off year.

Whatever it is, Jon Beason looks very different this year.