As we continue to get you ready for Carolina Panthers training camp, we shift our attention to the linebacking corps. We’ve already looked at every offensive position and examined the defensive line yesterday.
There’s a strong chance that the Panthers have the best group of linebackers in the NFL amongst teams that run a 4-3 defense. Luke Kuechly obviously won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 2013 and Thomas Davis racked up 123 tackles and four sacks last year while also excelling in pass coverage. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t question marks heading into training camp.
The big thing to focus on will be who wins the starting job at strongside linebacker (or the “SAM” position). Veteran Chase Blackburn was effective last year in that role but is 31 and his best football is likely behind him. Comparatively, A.J. Klein is coming into his second season and looked effective against the San Francisco 49ers in Blackburn’s absence, with seven tackles and a sack on Colin Kaepernick.
Our own Matt Davenport is high on Klein and in a recent piece projected Klein to usurp Blackburn for the starting job. It will certainly be interesting to see if Ron Rivera gives the nod to experience or to upside.