The Panthers are a young and constantly improving team and when Cam Newton shocked the world with his ability in his NFL debut, Panthers fans had some hope about the season ahead. Then an injury to Jon Beason and a special teams debacle led to a loss and the team was seemingly back at square one.
Critics are once again writing Carolina off as Jon Beason will be out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, but it's not time to lose hope for the season, yet. The Panthers have made it a point to load up on solid backups in the case that one of their linebackers went down and that will pay off immediately.
The man who will step into the starting lineup will be Dan Connor, a talented Penn State product who's in his fourth NFL season. Connor was one of the hottest names on the linebacker trade market before the season began, but it appears that the Panthers made the right move in retaining him.
He has gotten significant experience in the past two seasons and is capable of filling in for Beason, who has been one of the most productive linebackers in the NFL since he entered the league in 2007.
Connor has the ability to make this a smooth transition. He is a hard hitter who can run from sideline to sideline and make an open field tackle. One area that he can produce in, which Beason has not particularly excelled in, is the pass rushing department.
In Connor's final two collegiate seasons, he totaled 11 sacks, but without much playing time, he hasn't been able to show the Panthers much. He has enough straight line speed and power to be an effective blitzer, which is a huge plus given Sean McDermott's style of play.
Those who worry about the Panthers ability to cover tight ends and running backs without Beason need not worry much more. Connor can be a little stiff in the hips, but he can cover most starting running backs that the Panthers will face. Scat backs like Reggie Bush will give him trouble, but on his sides are James Anderson and Thomas Davis, who are among the most athletic linebackers in the league. They will have no trouble accounting for tight end Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant come Sunday.
One move that is a must for the Panthers is to address the defensive tackle position. Connor is not a great at shedding blocks and can get caught in traffic when the defensive line does not get a good push.
Head coach Ron Rivera has repeated that the team will use their open roster spot to pick up a defensive tackle or offensive lineman, but the truth is that the defensive line is the bigger concern at this point.
Sione Fua struggled at times in his debut, but he and fellow rookie Terrell McClain stepped up big in the second half. Two blown coverages and a special teams mishap were to blame for the loss and you can't put much blame on the two big guys in the middle. They will improve with time, but when you add a veteran presence into that situation, the performance of the entire line will improve; giving Carolina a chance to blitz more effectively and make stops when backed into the red zone.
On paper, the loss of Beason may seem insurmountable for a team who went 2-14 last season, but Dan Connor has shown the ability to be one of the better starters in the NFL. He's been given a chance and it's my belief that he will make the best of it.