This is a question I ponder today as news breaks of the Hardy debacle and the possibility of Charles Johnson facing intriguing financial ground after the upcoming season. Whereas the Panthers are lacking at a number of areas (Read: Offensive Tackle) DE is one position they have some players at. Obviously the hope is that the current pairing of Hardy & Johnson will stick around a few more years, with the Hardy situation being revealed to be vastly overblown and Big Money willing to become Not-Quite-As-Big Money, but still, it's a sort of relief to look at the players on the roster and see we have some quality personnel.
The rotation is so deep that there were times last year where the offense would, drive after drive, absolutely refuse to take a game. The defense would trot onto the field time and time again, but thanks to some good conditioning and a rotation of talented players at the DE spot, they would hold down the fort far more than was fair to ask of them.
Anyways, I divied up this list of great Panther pass rush tandems and though I'd take a look at the candidates to be the next.
1. Salt & Pepper
They were the first. Kevin Greene and Lamar Lathon were some of the first notable Panthers, and they contributed to Carolina having the grizzly defensive rep it has so long had. These two, along with some other dude named Sam Mills, contributed to the 1996 NFC West title run by being the driving force behind the league's second ranked defense. The tandem combined for 28 total sacks in 1996 and both players went to the Pro Bowl, helping to put the Carolina Panthers on the map. Greene was an especially nice pickup for Panthers fans, as stealing him away from Pittsburgh and their insufferable fans was a nice win for the fanbase.
2. Julius Peppers & Mike Rucker
For a time, the Panthers had arguably the NFL's best defensive linemen group since the start of the decade. Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker were matched up along with Kris Jenkins to form an elite defensive front that.was the driving force behind a Panthers' Super Bowl run. They together totaled 19 sacks on their way to 38, with second year DE Julius Peppers taking a step back form his rookie year after teams began to pay more attention to him (or it was just one of those Julius I don't really care things, but I'll be optimistic) and Mike Rucker benefited, leading the team with 12 sacks in 14 games and adding a Pro Bowl appearance to his resume'. Though the numbers, on the surface anyways, may not be as impressive as their predecessors, you can't argue with the success.
3. Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson
Here we are at our current pairing, who I'd consider to be the best. Charles Johnson can be unstoppable at times, and even when he isn't that, he's one of the most consistent players on the field, being one of the best run stopping defensive ends in the league. Greg Hardy, unbelievably only 24 years old, is only now starting to enter his prime if elects to not throw it all away (if he hasn't already) and has become a strong run defender as well. There were times last year when these two would virtually single-handedly win games for this team, and it was quite the marvel. I don't know that that could ever be said about another pair of defensive linemen, but on days when the offense was sputtering and the Secondary was meh, these two would flip a switch and take over a game, destroying another team's offensive display in the process. It was one of the most spectacular things I've seen as a Panthers fan, and I can vividly remember watching my cheers turn into laughter time and time again as they two would be in the opponents backfield play after play after play before the ball was, wrecking havoc on smarmy little moles like Drew Brees and glennon-esque necks like Matt Ryan. Altogether they tallied 26 sacks with Johnson missing some time courtesy of a cheap shot in an arrogant franchise's last ditch losing effort. Hardy also notched a Pro Bowl and 2nd team All-Pro, and Johnson was snubbed yet again from much deserved recognition.
4. Kony Ealy, Mario Addison, Wes Horton, Frank Alexander..??
Sadly, a question we have to consider now is the potential of these young players.That said, each of them (except Ealy) has shown to be excellent relief rushers, and were a large part of the team having the second overall ranked defense in 2013. As much as Hardy's and Johnson's dominance made me giggle with glee at their dominance, I found even more joy in watching their backups come in and be effective starters. There was little dropoff when Johnson went down for a couple games, thanks to the fact that our backups at the position are good enough to start for a number of teams. Though Frank Alexander's perpetual idiocy might land him the Greg Hardy Trophy For Stupidity (behind the man for whom the award is named) he will still get another shot in training camp to prove he is worth holding onto. Addison is a supremely underrated player who has done nothing but play quite well when given the opportunity, and Wes Horton has also shown that has more than just potential as well. They combined for 5.5 sacks last year (as if that's relevant in this context) but showed time and time again that the DE position is this team's strength-which was only made stronger with the 2nd round selection of Kony Ealy. There is a reason to be optimistic here, and not just that McNutt-Had-A-Great-Incompetion-In-The-Atlanta-Game kind of optimism that tickles the jimmies of every Huddler over every training camp body that passes through the Charlotte, but a legitimate chance that the next great Panther pass rush duo may indeed be an answer which is already on the roster.
Unlike Offensive Tackle. Do you hear me Dave? UNLIKE BYRON BELL.
Said Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman today, when talking about his early round selections.
""Big men allow you to compete, and we addressed that in the first (two) days. It's important that we have those people," Gettleman said"
Big men allow you to compete, Dave Gettleman said when talking about the WR position. This phrase has been spouted on this board as nausem in every argument against taking skill position players. Now that it has been discovered to be a myth that he is talking strictly about OL, if the pick itself wasn't evidence enough, perhaps this time next year discussions be a sliver more open minded when someone suggest we need a WR or CB. This also reveals something that we mostly knew anyways, that Gettleman prefers specimens and the days of irrational hate against massive talents because they are physically gifted as this board seems to so often do (Newton, Clowney, Benjamin) may lead to backfire, as the Benjamin pick was for so many posters.
I like the competition I see at areas of weakness for the most part. CB and S both have a number of options and as everyone knows will depend on the DL for their success. It's a shame but it is what it is for now, and I do believe Melvin White has the tools to be a good player for us this year. Cason on the other side isn't shabby. Safety is tricky as we have nobody who stands out but nor do we have many players could surprise and be special, but we do know what we have back there which fits Rivera's modus operandi to a T when it comes to players in the Secondary as he routinely demonstrated.
As we wind down, I'd like to take advantage of the depth of this draft and inject some competition at other areas that could use it. WR could use another young player for competition, and there are a number of options still on the board. there that are well documented.
Don't be surprised if we toss in a LB and a RB before the draft ends. These are the rounds where you address those positions. LB could use someone else competing at the Will, and with Stewart's up reliability and Deangelo being a possible cap release next years we could very well capitalize on the RB depth in this class.
Anyways, this is nothing new to most of you, just a general synopsis of what we may expect. It's too late to address the major need remaining, OT, and I refuse to believe we're content with what we have competing there, so the team may look to trade down the line or may be hoping for surprise cuts like Roos.