CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - With only 3 starters back on defense, the Carolina Panthers have a lot of work to do as they rebuild their defense.
Gone are Pro Bowlers like Luke Kuechly, Gerald McCoy, Eric Reid, and Dontari Poe. It doesn’t stop there as Mario Addison, Bruce Irvin, and James Bradberry were all let go to sign with other teams. That’s a lot of talent leaving Bank of America Stadium.
With a new head coach in Matt Rhule comes a new defensive coordinator in Phil Snow. The 2 have been together the last few years including the last 3 at Baylor.
This rebuild is going to be difficult but you can slowly see the plan they are putting together.
In this past April’s NFL Draft, the Panthers used every pick they had on defensive players including their first round pick, defensive tackle Derrick Brown out of Auburn.
Among the players they selected, a few can play multiple positions. That course of action also extended into their choices in free agents.
“The more guys that can play multiple roles, the better,” said Snow. “We might be in a personnel group that we can play two or three different packages which creates a lot of problems offensively.”
A player like rookie Jeremy Chinn comes to mind for coach Snow as Chinn can play both safety and cornerback.
In free agency, the Panthers signed safety Juston Burris who can also slide to corner. The team also re-upped with safety Tre Boston who does well in coverage but might be even better in the box in run support. Last year’s first round draft pick, Brian Burns, can get after the quarterback as well as drop back in coverage.
The one thing coach wishes he had was time on the practice field with the players during off season workouts. The pandemic put a halt to that and thus the team could only workout virtually. But there was a silver lining in this virtual world for coach Snow. After going over installation of certain defenses, he had the chance to test the guys to see how much they have retained and that has put coach at ease about future game planning.
“My biggest fear is what I don’t know that they don’t know,” said coach. “I wanna know what they know, because coaches do too much in a game. The only way I’m going to know that is make sure that I know what they know and the only way to do that is through assessment and testing.”
No doubt, the biggest loss on this defense is linebacker Luke Kuechly. Luke shocked the NFL world when he retired back in January. He was pretty much a coach on the field and that kind of knowledge and instincts just can’t be replaced. How do they make up for the loss though?
“The guys that have been drafted and we’re paying, we got to get them to play.”
High draft picks have to live up to their draft status. Guys like linebacker Shaq Thompson (1st round) and defensive tackle Kawann Short (2nd round), who have the potential to be stars in the league have to live up to that now.
Free agents like linebacker Tahir Whitehead, defensive end Stephen Weatherly, and cornerback Eli Apple, who have been in the league a few years but just didn’t work out at their previous stops, have a fresh start to prove they belong.
“We have some pieces in my opinion. We have to develop them. How long that takes to come together and play the type of defense that it takes remains to be scene.”