"It was about time."
Those words were coach John Fox's way of expressing his delight with the emphasis the Carolina Panthers placed on acquiring defensive help with their early picks in the NFL draft over the weekend.
The Panthers used their first three selections -- two second-rounders Saturday and a third-round pick Sunday -- in an effort to improve a defense that ranked 18th in the league in total defense last season.
Despite the fact that he is a former defensive coordinator, this is the first time in Fox's eight years as Panthers' coach that team has taken three consecutive defensive players at the top of their draft. Of the 21 players who comprised the first three picks from the past seven drafts, only eight were on the defensive side.
"Last year, we went primarily offense," Fox said of the team picking running back Jonathan Stewart and right tackle Jeff Otah with first-round picks. "I think it was about time we injected some guys in there on defense, and we'll see where that lies."
The centerpiece of the defensive ramp-up is Florida State defensive end Everette Brown, a pass-rushing specialist the Panthers valued enough to swap their first-round pick next year in order to choose him with the 11th pick of this year's second round.
Brown looks to be the kind of player Carolina covets. He's known for his speed, quickness, aggressive play and community service -- somewhat like a young, albeit smaller, Mike Rucker.
Brown showed up at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday dressed in a sportcoat and flashing a bright smile. Though many analysts projected he would be a first-round pick he said things couldn't have gone any better for him.
The Panthers' next two picks were Troy cornerback Sherrod Martin and Georgia defensive tackle Corvey Irvin.
Counting Brown, the trio gives the Panthers the infusion of depth they needed on their defensive line plus a viable option to play the nickel back position in passing situations.
As part of Saturday's trade with San Francisco to acquire Brown, the Panthers received a fourth-round pick (111th) this year, which they used Sunday to select a Texas A&M running back Mike Goodson.
Carolina used its own fourth-round selection (128) to pick the top-rated fullback in the draft, Syracuse's Tony Fiammetta, the heir apparent to veteran Brad Hoover.
One area of need the Panthers didn't address was its lack of depth behind its offensive line starters. Carolina picked Oklahoma's Duke Robinson in the fifth round, and he instantly became a top reserve at guard, but they desperately need someone other than starting left guard Travelle Wharton who can fill in at left tackle for all-pro Jordan Gross.
That's a need that could be addressed in the free agency market.
As soon as the draft ended, the Panthers got busy trying to sign undrafted free agents. They could add 20 or more to their roster in the next day or so.
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