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Carolina Panthers' Biggest Concern for the Season: The Defensive Line

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Carolina Panthers' Biggest Concern for the Season: The Defensive Line
Mary Ann Chastain/Getty Images

It was not that long ago that the Panthers dominate defensive line helped pave the way to Super Bowl XXXVIII.  With Julius Peppers leaving in free agency this year, the last remnants of that outstanding line is gone. 

The defensive line which used to be the biggest strength is now the biggest question mark for this 2010 Panther team.  For the Panthers to succeed this year they are going to need their young defensive lineman to step up. 

So far this preseason it looks like the D-line has taken that challenge and ran with it.  The Panthers have racked up 18 sacks in three games.  Obviously preseason is not the regular season, but it is still impressive that the Panthers lead the NFL in total defense and sacks so far this preseason.

The preseason is usually disregarded because offenses and defense are very vanilla.  There are no game plans, and teams are not intentionally trying to exploit your weaknesses, it is more about getting your starters some reps and seeing who can just go out and play. 

The score and even how proven skilled players play is not really that important.  I think, however, how the players in the trenches play, is important.  The guys on the offensive and defensive lines are going to go hard no matter what.  No one wants to be embarrassed when they are up against a guy 1 on 1, and you don’t want to be the offensive lineman who lets your QB or RB take a big hit. 

Also many of those linemen are guys who are fighting for a starting position or a spot on the team.  The fact is it is a lot easier to find a big-bodied lineman than it is to find a No. 1 QB or CB, so linemen always have to be playing hard even during the preseason.

So it is a big deal that the Panther D-lineman have played well?  Yes.  I think it shows a lot of promise.  It may not translate to the regular season, but at it shows that they want to go out and compete and win even if it is the preseason.

Starters:

Starting RDE: Tyler Brayton

Brayton is the one starter on the Panthers D-line who you know what you are getting.  He has 78 starts under his belt, 31 in the last two years for the Panthers.  At 6’6” 280 lb he is a big defensive end who is good against the run and can get after the QB at times.  He got two sacks against the Ravens when he was up against OT Michael Oher. 

Starting LDE: Charles Johnson

In three years as a pro, Johnson has only started four games but has amassed 10 sacks.  Johnson had two sacks in the most recent game against Tennessee.  He is one player on the Panthers who I think could thrive this year now that he is given the opportunity to start a full year.

Starting LDT: Ed Johnson

Johnson is a run-stopper that they picked up from the Colts.  He started all 16 games his first year in 2007 but has had some problems off the field since then.  Johnson is basically one year experiment for the Panthers.

Starting RDT: Louis Leonard

Leonard has only started five games in his career.  He has a lot of potential, he just needs to be healthy and get on the field.

The Future:

DE Everette Brown

Brown was one of my favorite players in the draft last year, but he had an uneventful first year.  The former second round pick has tons of potential but was trying to play end in a linebacker's body last year.  He has reportedly added 10 lb,  so hopefully he can have a breakout year.  At worst Brown should see some playing time in passing situations.  Brown has already racked up three sacks this preseason.

DE Greg Hardy

Getting Hardy in the fifth round was a complete steal for the Panthers.  He has great size and could be a guy who could help contribute in the pass rush this year.  Hardy has three sacks this preseason.  

Guys Who Will See Playing Time:

DT Tank Tyler

The Panther traded for Tyler for a fifth round pick last year.  He played some time with the starters during the preseason, so he should see a decent amount of playing time during the regular season.

DE Eric Moore

Has put up 10 tackles and 3 sacks so should be a guy who sees some playing time.

Prediction:

Although the Panthers defensive line is very young, they have some talented players who could shine now that they are given an opportunity.  With Jon Beason behind the defensive line I think they will be a strong against the run.  I think the Panthers will finish in the middle of the NFL in total sacks. 

Charles Johnson – 45 tackles 8.5 sacks

Tyler Branton –50 tackles 5.5 sacks

Ed Johnson – 40 tackles 1.5 sacks

Louis Leonard – 45 tackles 2 sacks

Everette Brown – 30 tackles 6 sacks

Greg Hardy – 20 tackles 4 sacks

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