With so much talk surrounding the Carolina Panthers offense this season, it seems no one is talking about the defense. Understandable, as the Panthers draft did feature two very exciting and dynamic play makers. But for fans who are really paying close attention, it is the Carolina Panthers defense that may really have a chance to be something special this season.
To understand why, we need to look at the biggest problems of last year and decide if they have been adequately addressed.
Rookies no more
The biggest story of the offseason last year was the rookie corners and the possibility of them both starting. Well, it happened. Bradberry and Worley quickly became the starters and understandably saw a bit of a learning curve. The good news? Toward the end of the season James Bradberry was starting to look like a legitimate shut down corner and Daryl Worley resembled a solid starting cornerback. Throw in a second training camp and preseason under now defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and you should have little concern over the Carolina Panthers starting corners this season. Let us check off that box.
Spare a nickel?
The Panthers felt pretty good at nickel last year, with Bene Benwikere and rookie Zack Sanchez to back him up. Unfortunately, neither panned out. As it turns out, Benwikere was never fully recovered from a leg fracture late in 2015. He just could not perform on the level the Panthers were expecting. Zack Sanchez was cut before the season started, and then signed to the practice squad. When he did see playing time after Benwikere’s release, it was not pretty (to put it nicely). The Panthers finally got relief at nickel in Leonard Johnson, but by then it was too late.
Fast forward to today. The Carolina Panthers now have one of the better nickels in the league in Captain Munnerlyn. They also drafted Corn Elder who likely will take over backup duties from Zack Sanchez. Can we check off this box? Looks like it.
The Panthers had high hopes for Tre Boston last season. He was the talk of OTA practices and training camp. Tre had come into his own, and paired with Kurt Coleman the Panthers safety positions were much improved. Yeah, not so much. While Coleman played adequately at strong safety, the free safety position was lacking. The Panthers desperately looked for an answer in free agency, but found none. The Panthers ended the 2016 season with the safety position still a glaring need.
The Panthers addressed this issue in March with the signing of pro bowler Mike Adams. Adams and Coleman could prove to be the best safety tandem the Carolina Panthers have seen in many season. Sure, depth behind them is questionable, but let’s think positively and just check off that box.
Koni, Kone, Kony
Another position the Carolina Panthers tried desperately to shore up in free agency last year was defensive end. The starting tandem of Kony Ealy and Charles Johnson proved to be ineffective for the most part. Teams quickly learned that Ealy posed little threat, often times allowing a tight end to block him one on one. Mario Addison did contribute a great deal when given the chance, but it wasn’t enough.
Result? Kony Ealy was traded away and Julius Peppers was signed. Even if Peppers is only at 75% of the level he played as a Carolina Panther years ago, it will still be a huge improvement over Ealy. The Panthers also drafted Daeshon Hall who should prove to be an upgrade over Ryan Delaire. If Hall can help spell the starters in the defensive rotation regularly, it will have a significant impact on the defensive end position. Box checked.
Throwing this all together, it does look like the Panthers have addressed the major needs of the defense. Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks may not need to worry constantly about giving up the big play, as Sean McDermott did last year. With the improvements to the defensive secondary and the defensive end position, the Panthers may be able to pin back their ears and be the attacking defense we have all come to expect from them. If so, you can safely expect the Panthers to have a top 5 defense in the NFL once again.