SPARTANBURG, S.C. — As a high school wrestler, Sean McDermott was a two-time National Prep School champion at 171 pounds. The 40-year-old defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers could still make that mat weight.
"I'm actually right around that. The guys give me a hard time because they think I'm skinny," McDermott said as he walked up a hill after a training camp practice Monday at Wofford College.
McDermott has all the beef he needs in a Carolina defense that last season ranked second only to the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in fewest points and yards allowed. The Panthers led the NFL with 60 sacks.
Are they aiming to finish No. 1 this season across those key defensive categories?
"Absolutely," said the fourth-year Carolina coordinator.
"But No. 1, we want to win as a team. We want to win the Super Bowl as a team. We want to be as good a team as we can be. ... Doing our part on defense, what we're focused on is being as good of a defense as we can be."
Luke Kuechly, the middle linebacker who has racked up big awards in his first two NFL seasons, said last season's unit can get better. He looks at more than stats.
"There were times we played really well last year, and there were times we didn't play as well," said Kuechly, the league's defensive player of the year in 2013 after being voted the top defensive rookie in 2012.
Though the Panthers went 12-4 last season and won the NFC South, Kuechly pointed to the two games Carolina dropped to start the season, a 12-7 home defeat to the Seahawks followed by a 24-23 loss to the Bills in Buffalo.
"(Seattle) had a drive on us at the end of the game, and we weren't able to finish. Buffalo was like that. They drove at the end of the game," said Kuechly.
"We've got to get on the same page starting from game one. ... That's one instance where we can get better. There's a ton of other ones."
Kuechly, who had four interceptions last season and was named first-team all-pro, is the cornerstone.
"Special, unique," McDermott said of his defensive star.
"We're talking a leader. We're talking about a guy that leads by example, and he helps us to develop a culture that we want around here."
But the Panthers have plenty in front of and around Kuechly.
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