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Glass Half Something: The Case for or against the starters - Defense

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Last week I serenaded everyone with my opinions on the Offense this season. Well, let's switch sides of the ball now and go to the area that everyone is blatently convinced that the Panthers need work in. Something I can almost agree with.

Before I start, I just want to say that it's incredibly hard to talk about the different sections of the defense because, well, they all depend on each other. Sacks mean nothing if the secondary isn't providing proper coverage to allow the pocket to break. Tackles under ten yards can come from anywhere. Posistive yardage for opposing offenses are more a result of the opposing offenses then they are of any specific section of the defense. So, I'll do my best here. But really, it should all be considered one unit that lives and dies together. Just for the record.

Defense...here we go:

The Line: We'll ignore Julius Peppers for the moment because frankly I'm tired of hearing about him online and tired of arguing about him with my friends. Yes, he had a great year (carrer high 15 sacks). Yes, he is a great player no matter how you slice it. Yes, he probably won't be back next year. Have fun where ever ye may roam, Julius. Now then, looking at the rest of the line, there is some serious talent here and let me tell you why. Tylor Brayton and Maake Kemoeatu seem like they could very easily become an unbreachable wall to the left. Each made a substantial number of tackles (including five sacks for Brayton) and were a big reason why top tier running backs often had a problem getting through the line. Damione Lewis also possess a great well of talent and a decent ammount of explosion off the line and could easily be turned into a powerful pass rusher.

Unfortunately: These guys often look like they have no idea what to do other than "stop the ball". When the ball fails to "stop", the line has a tendancy to stop instead. If the ball made it past the line, runners made big plays, something that opposing offenses picked up on after the bye week. Also, these guys seem remarkably resereved. Sure, the team as a whole had a decent number of sacks and tackles for lost yardage, but as a unit there seems to be no definiative bloodthirst that gets these guys over the line of scrimage. Finally, some definate work needs to be done on stamina. Too often this season it seemed that after thirty minutes of gametime these guys just quit. There's definate potential here, but it needs some tweaking.

Linebackers: The pride and hope of Carolina D. Besides the beast that is John Beason, there is extreme potential here. First off, a few folks are hard on Thomas Davis, but lets not forget that he was only about 40 tackles short of John Beason's pro bowl marks. And Beason wasn't credited for four sacks and two forced fumbles this year. On the other side of the middle is Na'il Diggs, who is almost perfectly average in every way. Which is ok, considering the potential to be found in the depth chart for the linebacker corps. If we can get a few more years out of this veteran that's fine. If not, there's plenty of guys there waiting to make some plays.

Unfortunately: Without some strong leadership from the sidelines, these guys can have a tendancy to not know what their assignment is. Also, there doesn't seem to be a guy here who can as easily break up a pass play as they can stop the run, which I think is the flaw that put Carolina into an early offseason. Finally, I don't think there's enough flexibility from this line when the 4-3 shceme's weaknesses are exposed, particularly against the pass plays. A lot of people would blame this on the DC, but I think its just that these guys have a hard time breaking away from assignments, which brings me full circle to my first point of the linebackers being reliant upon the sidelines to know what to do.

Secondary: Ah the last line of defense. The best thing that can be said about the Carolina secondary is that the early season liabilities showed definate improvement. Namely, Charles Godfrey, a guy who was a rookie at the in Week 1 and then became the guy trying to make the big plays in Week 17. If he can show this kind of improvement in the offseason and through next season then we may have a legitimate pass threat on our hands. Of course, no one wants to see that.....

Unfortunately: All anyone really wants to see is the meltdown of the other three starters: Ken Lucas, Chris Gamble, and Chris Harris. Starting with Lucas, his age is definately starting to show. Against slot recievers he can still bring the pressure, but the deep ball eludes him. So his meltdown is more a matter of steady decline over the last few seasons and now it's to the point that it's starting to hurt. Chris Gamble never really had a meltdown this year so much as he had a complete lack of change from last season. A guy who should be an all-pro player will forever and always look like an average Joe if he can't change up the way he plays from time to time. And finally, Chirs Harris, a guy who went from being the best player the Panthers picked up this year to being the guy who might as well never have a name given as much as you hear about him. So what's to do? Work. A change in personel isn't necessary, but I can see where it might happen. But the talent is there, it just needs to be developed.

Coaching: Is at this point still done by Mike Trgovac....

Unfortunately: Is at this point still being done by Mike Trgovac...enough has been written on here and elsewhere to know that this is where the Panthers Defense falls flat on its face. Much like his offensive counterpart, Trgovac is way too conservative to ever have a truly competent defense. Unlike his offensive counterpart, Trgo doesn't even try to take chances, instead relying on the inability of an opposing offense. Which is strange, considering that Carolina has never been an offense first team. This is where the change is needed. And it is needed now.

Well, I've done the other two squads. Next week, special teams!

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There are a couple of problems with the defensive line. Tyler Brayton played well this year. He wasn't great, but he's good enough to be a decent starter or a great backup. I have no real problem with him starting next year. Kemo is obviously a run stuffer, and should be used accordingly. He shouldn't be in on 3rd and more than 5. Lewis is the exact opposite of Kemo. He shouldn't be in unless it's a passing down. The problem was that this season, both of those guys were in just about every down. (Unless they were being spelled because of stamina issues of course). We need to get more depth on the line, plain and simple. The interior needs more stopping power for the run.

Our only other problem, in my eyes, is obtaining some more talent at Cornerback. Gamble is fine, and I can't stand when people rag on him. Lucas needs to be restructured, or released. Marshall needs to be kept at Nickelback or Dimeback. He's not really made any progress at all. Godfrey will continue to come along at safety, and Chris Harris is fine. We need a solid #2 either through Free Agency, or the draft. Ideally, it would be nice to keep Lucas, under a restructured contract, and have him play as the 3rd CB, while getting someone to fill that #2 spot. I think we'd be pretty deep then. Not only that, but it lets Lucas play the slot guy most of the time, where he'd probably be at his best.

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DE- Brayton- has been good, could get alot better in the offseason

DT- Kemo good run stuffer

DT- Lewis- great back up in a starters role

DE-Johnson- still waiting to explode, has shown flashes

OLB- Davis-total beast imo still waiting for him to blow up, has just as much potential as Beason

MLB- Beason- the best 4-3 MLB in the game

OLB- Diggs- solid starter, Dan Conner waiting in the wings

SS- Harris- Kicks ass, voice of the defense, strong leader. Great at run stopping, ok coverage

FS-Godfrey- Seemed to digress as the season went on but should improve. I think he could gain some muscle in the offseason.

CB- I won't hold judgment on them because I think all of them would look much better in a more aggressive scheme.

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Don't get me wrong, I think Ken Lucas would be perfectly fine against the slot and short routes in four and five reciever sets. However, man to man against a starting reciever is just not his place anymore.

As for Harris, I still think that Carolina has the most potent combo of safties in the league. The problems here are that the talent is being underused, not that the talent isn't there.

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