Carolina Panthers training camp starts up this week and as such, we’ve been getting you ready with the top story lines at each position that you should be watching out for. Last week, we previewed all the positions on the offense. If you missed any of those, click here to check those out.
Now we move onto the defense, which was the strength of the team in 2013. The Panthers’ tenacious defense finished second in the league in yards allowed, only behind the Seattle Seahawks, who won the Super Bowl. A big reason the “D” was so successful was because the team lead the NFL in sacks last year, largely thanks to a dynamic defensive line.
All four starters return to the defensive line but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some major question marks. The obvious question is Greg Hardy’s status. He’s had some well documented legal troubles and could very well find himself suspended to start the season. Frank Alexander could’ve been a fill-in starter during that time but he’s already been suspended for the first four games of the season due to violating the substance abuse policy.
With that in mind, will second round pick Kony Ealy be ready to start in Hardy’s place and play at a high level? If it’s not him, then does the coaching staff feel comfortable with Mario Addison, Wes Horton, and/or CFL superstar Alex Hall? It’ll likely be by committee, but Ron Rivera and co. would probably like to have one of those guys emerge since Hardy’s future with the team past 2014 is uncertain to say the least.
The other key story line to follow will be the development of second-year defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. Our own Matt Davenport took an excellent look at what those two need to work on from their rookie seasons. To check those out, click here for the Lotulelei piece and here for the Short piece.
The emergence of Short will be especially important as Dwan Edwards is 33 years old. He’s been productive (nine sacks in two seasons in Carolina) but his career is clearly in its twilight so Short needs to be able to prove that he can handle the load of a starter.