Though still tight-lipped about specifics, new Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Ron Meeks doesn’t foresee any drastic changes to the schemes for the 2009 season.
Meeks, after having spent the last seven years with the Indianapolis Colts, joined the Panthers in the off season and will take over a defensive unit that wasn’t too shabby last year, but wasn’t spectacular, either.
During the final seven games of the season, however, the Panthers were routinely scorched for points, culminating in a 33-13 debacle against the Arizona Cardinals in the playoffs.
Meeks, a proponent of the vaunted “Cover 2” or “Tampa 2” defense made popular by the Tony Dungy-led Bucs in the late '90s, isn’t quite ready to craft the same system around a still relatively unfamiliar group of players.
He doesn’t use the word "personnel"—he prefers "skill set." And his job is to mold the skill set around what he does, not to force the players to learn a new scheme. In essence, he wants to take certain elements of the “Cover 2” and fit them around his skill set.
In the “Cover 2”, there isn’t much press coverage at the line of scrimmage by cornerbacks. They sit back in a zone-style defense and always have help behind them from a safety.
Pressure on the quarterback will come from the defensive line and outside linebackers, and the middle linebacker helps with pass coverage in the middle of the field.
Could the Panthers run this scheme? They have the pieces, plus an additional factor that Meeks admitted he lacked while with the Colts.
Cornerback Chris Gamble is the shutdown corner that all NFL teams long for; he would excel in this system by staying extremely aggressive in a zone, knowing he would have help over the top.
But Meeks is tight-lipped about the team’s intentions, already taking a cue from head coach John Fox, who is notorious for not tipping his hand.
Up front, Julius Peppers and his 14.5 sacks from a year ago would bookend well with Everette Brown, the Panthers' top draft choice this year. Peppers compares favorably with Dwight Freeney, an All-Pro defensive end whom Meeks coached with the Colts.
In Maake Kemoeatu, Meeks has a run-stopper to clog up the middle on the line—something he sorely lacked with the Colts.
Jon Beason, an All-Pro middle linebacker who led the team in tackles last season, is athletic enough to cover the middle of the field.
Charles Godfrey won’t be mistaken for Bob Sanders at safety, but Meeks likes what he has seen thus far.
Truth be told, the Panthers defense wasn’t a pushover last season. They ranked 18th in yards allowed and 14th in scoring, but Meeks has already brought a new energy to the unit that will renew its focus on the fundamentals.
Speaking to a host of media at the team’s most recent minicamp, Meeks made it known he thinks the pieces are in place.
“They have some guys in place who are play-makers,” Meeks said. “And I think that’s a key factor in anything you can do on the defensive side of the ball.”