Under New Leadership, Panthers Defense Brings Back Experience
With the addition of Ron Meeks as the Panthers new defensive coordinator, this year's Panthers defense looks to be much improved in the areas of mental and physical toughness as well as executing plays.
The Panthers have trimmed their sails of Ken Lucas and will do so even more in the near future of Julius Peppers. In my mind's eye, the trading of Peppers does not have as significant of an impact overall as opposed to keeping someone who doesn't want to be there.
There is still plenty of talent on the Panthers defense, and they all work well together. What's more important however, is after the loss to the Cardinals, every member on defense has been left for an entire offseason with a horrible taste in their mouths, and are looking to rectify an atrocious ending to a bountiful '08 season.
Defensive Coordinator: Ron Meeks
A defensive mastermind in his own right, the Panthers made a huge splash and a nice steal with signing former Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Ron Meeks to the coaching staff.
Meeks has a long list of accolades while with the Colts for seven seasons. He played a large role in developing five different Pro Bowlers who combined for 10 appearnaces, while the Colts defense also finished among the league's top 11 defenses and in the top seven in points allowed five times.
During Meeks' stint as Colts defensive coordinator, he also played an integral part in bringing a 28th ranked defense to a top-ten (eighth) overall defense. In his first season with the Colts, the defense went from being 31st to seventh in scoring defense.
"We are very pleased to add Ron to our coaching staff as defensive coordinator," said head coach John Fox. "He is an outstanding teacher, who has enjoyed great success as a coordinator in the league and brings a strong background of coaching championship defenses."
Middle Linebacker: Jon Beason
Jon Beason had a nice '08 season as the Panthers middle linebacker, putting up some decent numbers: 110 solo tackles, 28 assists, deflecting eight passes, and three interceptions for a combined 52 yards.
In his two year career as a Panther, Beason has started in all 32 regular season games.
He became the first rookie in club history to lead the Panthers in tackles after producing a team record 160 in 2007, surpassing Michael Barrow's 158 in 1998, and eclipsed Lester Towns' club rookie record of 103 takedowns in 2000.
Beason was named to the Pro Football Weekly All-Rookie Team in 2007 and was the runner-up for NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Jon Beason also led or tied for the team lead in tackles in 13-of-16 games in 2007, including 12 of the last 13 contests.
He notched a career-high 17 tackles versus Dallas on December 22, 2007, to go along with one forced fumble.
Beason made his first start at middle linebacker at New Orleans October 7, 2007 and responded by leading the team with 10 tackles.
Beason was also the first Panthers linebacker to start in his NFL debut since Dan Morgan in 2001 when he started the regular season opener at outside linebacker at St. Louis on November 9, 2007. That season, he started the first four contests of the year at outside linebacker before moving to middle linebacker for the final 12 games.
Linebacker: Na'il Diggs
Na'il Diggs has been with the Panthers for three seasons. '09 will be the start of his fourth season.
Diggs was a free agent acquisition by the Panthers in April of 2006, after being released by the Green Bay Packers in March of 2006.
During his stint with Carolina, Diggs has amassed 132 tackles, 41 assists, 4.5 sacks, eight passes deflected, and an interception.
He's a big-bodied lineman, and still has the presence to bring mental intimidation, as well as physical punishment to opposing offenses.
Linebacker: Thomas Davis
Thomas Davis was a first round (14th overall) pick of the Panthers in the 2005 draft.
In that time, Davis has had a very productive career. He has amassed 264 tackles, 63 assists, 9.5 sacks, deflected 17 passes, and has an interception.
Davis made his first start as a rookie in the season opener versus New Orleans on September 11, 2005.
He registered his first NFL sack against New England on September 18, 2005, taking down Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Davis forced his first career fumble at Arizona on October 9, 2005 against Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin, which was recovered by former Panthers corner Ken Lucas to start Carolina's game-winning rally.
On October 29, 2006, Davis accumulated a sigle-game best 12 tackles versus Dallas.
At the conclusion of the 2006 season, Davis ranked second on the Panthers with 69 tackles.
On December 22, 2007, Davis notched his first career interception versus Dallas, picking off Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
He finished the 2007 season with a career-high three sacks.
In 2008, Davis again started all 16 regular season games, amassing 92 tackles, 21 assists, 3.5 sacks, and deflected six passes.
Defensive Tackle: Damione Lewis
Lewis, one of the big boys on the defensive line, was acquired by the Panthers in 2006 as a free agent from St. Louis.
During his time as a Panther, Lewis has amassed 61 tackles, 27 assists, 11.5 sacks (tying Diggs in '07 with 3.5 and Thomas Davis in '08 with 3.5), and deflected nine passes.
Defensive Tackle: Maake Kemoeatu
Kemoeatu, the former Baltimore Raven/Carolina Panther free agent acquisition, makes up another of one of the Panthers "big nasties" on the defensive line.
In his career as a Panther, Kemoeatu has amassed 97 tackles, 19 assists, and deflected six passes.
Defensive Tackle: Charles Johnson
Charles Johnson, starting his third year with the Panthers, was a third round selection (83rd overall) of Carolina in 2007.
He didn't see much action in his rookie year, only starting in two games of the three he participated in, but 2008 saw him make a larger contribution to the Panthers' defensive efforts.
In '08, Johnson amassed 20 solo tackles, five assists, six sacks, and seven passes defensed.
He played in his first NFL game for Carolina versus Seattle on December 16, 2007, and made his first start for Carolina versus Dallas on December 22, 2007, contributing three tackles, one quarterback hurry, and one pass defensed.
Defensive End: Tyler Brayton
The former first round (32nd overall) draft pick of the Oakland Raiders in 2003, contributed a lot towards the Panthers defensive efforts during his first season in Carolina.
In 2008, Brayton contributed 35 tackle, five assists, 4.5 sacks, and contributed three defensed passes.
Defensive Back: Richard Marshall
Richard Marshall, selected in the second round (58th overall) by the Panthers in the 20006 draft, didn't start a single game in 2008, yet he contributed numbers as if he were second on the depth chart.
In 2008, Marshall amassed 68 tackles, seven assists, two sacks, four passes defensed, and an interception returned for 11 yards.
Marshall was one of four rookie draft choices to start a game for Carolina in 2006, joining DeAngleo Williams, James Anderson and Will Montgomery. Anderson and Montgomery no longer play in the NFL.
He also tied with Chris Gamble and Ken Lucas for the Panthers team lead with three interceptions as a rookie in 2006.
Marshall scored his second-career touchdown on a 73-yard interception return after picking off quarterback Trent Dilfer versus San Francisco on December 12, 2007.
He tied with Deke Cooper for the Panthers team lead with three interceptions and led Carolina with 17 special teams tackles in 2007.
Defensive Back: Chris Gamble
In 2008, Chris Gamble, a Panthers first round selection (28th overall) in 2004, proved why he deserved a contract extension and the number one spot on the depth chart for 2009.
In 2009, Gamble amassed 83 tackles, 10 assists, 18 passes defensed, and three interceptions for a total return of 23 yards.
Gamble was an integral part of the Carolina defense that led the NFL with a team-record 26 interceptions and ranked second in the League with 38 take-aways in 2004.
He also became the first rookie defensive player in Panthers history to start all 16 games in 2004.
Gamble was first rookie in team history to be Carolina's sole interception leader.
His seven interceptions combined with former fellow cornerback Ken Lucas' six made Carolina the only team in the NFL to have two players with at least six interceptions in 2005.
Most notably, Gamble set new team records: 157 interception return yards in 2005 set team single-season record, surpassing the previous mark of 143 by Julius Peppers in 2004, and seven interceptions in 2005 rank as the second-highest single-season total in team history behind the eight recorded by Doug Evans in 2001.
Gamble is also among the Panthers all-time leaders: Tied for second in team history with Mike Minter with 17 interceptions, trailing Eric Davis' 25, and 205 interception return yards rank third in team history behind Minter's 418 and Davis' 228.
On a meaningless side note, these were the reasons that influenced me to purchase a practice jersey worn by Chris Gamble.