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Panthers defense faces L.T. challenge at San Diego

Discussion in 'Chargers Fan Forum' started by Johnny Lightning, Sep 2, 2008.

  1. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

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    Carolina strong in exhibitions, but Chargers' Tomlinson will be a handful.

    Jon Beason knows not to put too much stock in the NFL's preseason. Still, it was an eye-catching number:
    Three.
    That's now many points the Carolina Panthers' first-team defense allowed during three exhibitions (the starters didn't play in the final game against the Pittsburgh Steelers).
    “It's an example of how good we can be,” said Beason, the Panthers' middle linebacker.
    He is an emerging star on a once-dominant unit that underachieved last season, coming up with a franchise-low 23 sacks and finishing in the middle of most of the NFL's key defensive statistics.
    So, although the only preseason points that first group allowed came from a 42-yard field goal by Indianapolis' Adam Vinatieri, there's obviously room for improvement.
    It will need to come quickly. The Panthers will open their regular season Sunday in San Diego against the Chargers, who feature perhaps the NFL's top running back in LaDainian Tomlinson, and other offensive stars like tight end Antonio Gates.
    That kind of an opponent so soon was another eye-popper for Beason.
    “Since the schedule came out, that's been on my mind,” said Beason, the first rookie to lead the team in tackles, with 160 last season.
    In trying to return to their past defensive prominence, the Panthers made some key changes during the offseason.
    Julius Peppers, whose 2.5 sacks last season were a career-low, switched from left end to the right. Thomas Davis, the team's fastest linebacker, moved from strongside to the weakside.
    Carolina drafted strong safety Charles Godfrey in the third round. He'll start next to free safety Chris Harris, who led the NFL with eight forced fumbles last season.
    All the changes are for the better, Beason said.
    “Julius is enjoying himself more, he's much more vocal,” Beason said. “Thomas is a great cover guy and the change for him is going to allow him to come off the edge and make plays. Charles has come on so fast. We missed his kind of speed last year” in the secondary.
    Free agents have had an impact, too. Tyler Brayton (from Oakland) will start at left end. Landon Johnson (Cincinnati) has pushed Na'il Diggs at strongside linebacker.
    The Panthers have skilled cornerbacks in Ken Lucas and Chris Gamble – with an able backup in Richard Marshall. Defensive tackles Maake Kemoeatu and Damione Lewis had solid preseasons.
    “We did a good job of bringing players who are making everybody compete for their spots,” said Davis. “In order to stay in your position, you've got to be the best guy out there. We're competing day in, day out.”
    Beason and Davis will anchor one of the NFL's deeper linebacker groups. A key will be how Davis adapts from the strongside, where he had 85 tackles and three sacks last season, to the weakside.
    “I'll have lots of freedom,” Davis said. “I won't have to sit on the line and fight off linemen all the time. I won't have to react to that. I'll just have to react to going to the ball.”
    Beason said the defense has grown close. That's an intangible that's important, especially with Tomlinson and the Chargers approaching fast.
    “We're gaining confidence and believing in each other,” Beason said. “You get a lot of help. You do your job. No one man can do it all by himself.”

    dscott@charlotteobserver.com
     

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