The last time we saw Carolina Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy, he was having a career game in the Super Bowl as he had 3 sacks, a forced fumble, and an interception.
With the retirement of Jared Allen, Ealy is now the full time starter opposite Charles Johnson and is poised to have a break out 2016.
He is certainly in a position to make a jump in this his 3rd year in the NFL.
He lines up next to a prime example of a young guy making the jump to greatness in defensive tackle Kawann Short.
Last season was Short's 3rd after being selected in the 2nd round in 2013. KK racked up 11 sacks to lead all defensive tackles in the NFL.
Like Short, Ealy was picked in the 2nd round of the NFL Draft in 2014.
He has struggled at times in the NFL, but says he truly knows now what it means to be a pro in the NFL.
Prime example, Wednesday after mini camp, Ealy put in extra work with defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.
His defensive line mates gone for almost 15 minutes and Ealy still on the practice field trying to make sure that great Super Bowl performance is the start of a great career and not the lone highlight.
"Even after practice you can take a few steps and go over some plays that you may have missed or want to get better at or understand a little more," said Ealy. "Just take my game to the next level by doing the little things."
Lots of talk this off season has been about the new starters in the secondary and it is worthy of the chatter. But the way to help the back end is to get a big time pass rush and in 2016, I believe Ealy will be a big factor in Carolina being one of the leaders in sacks in the NFL.
If he is, then Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman will once again have a tough choice on whether to sign him long term along with guys like Short and Star Lotulelei. Which will be a good problem to have for Carolina.