When the Carolina Panthers let All Pro defensive end Julius Peppers go to the Chicago Bears during the off-season virtually every expert wrote off the defense. In fairness to those experts, there was every reason to think that Julius leaving would be devastating. The Panthers also let several other defensive starters go, leaving them with six starters from a year ago elsewhere. So far during the NFL preseason, however, the Panthers are not missing them…any of them.
The Panthers have played three NFL preseason games and been fairly dominate on the defensive side of the ball. In particular, the defensive line has been spectacular. Without Julius Peppers, the defensive line is playing with reckless abandon, and has suddenly become a strength for the team.
Leading this unexpected defensive line surge is second year man Everette Brown. Brown has been all over the ball, and had several sacks during the first three games. As a matter of fact, the Panthers have had 16 sacks in the first three games so far as a team.
It is not all about sacks, however. The defense as a whole are completely shutting down some pretty darn good football teams. Against the Titans and Chris Johnson, the Panthers completely shut down the first team offense for three quarters. The Titans did not move the ball until the Panthers put in the reserves.
Defensive coordinator Ron Meeks should be very proud of his young defense so far, and will likely be pushing them to even greater heights before the season is over. Meeks traditionally has his defenses playing their best ball towards the end of the football season. It will be interesting to see how these young Panthers perform when the regular season starts. They have a tough test the very first week against the New York Giants.
This defense is fast too. Jon Beason and Dan Conner is leading the linebackers, while Chris Gamble is holding down the secondary along with Richard Marshall. All of these guys are fast to the ball, and the Panthers seem to be buying into the team approach. Every Panther helmet is in on every single play, creating turnovers and limiting the opposing offense.
While Julius Peppers certainly has been one of the best linemen in the league over the last several years, he also had a penchant for disappearing for stretches of time. He often was the product of double teams from the opposing offenses, so that freed up other players to get to the ball. This season is more of a team approach, using their speed to rush to the ball.
Preseason or not, the Carolina Panthers and their fans have got to be asking…Julius who?