2012 Panthers defense: A position-by-position look

From staff reportsSeptember 8, 2012 

PHOTOS BY JEFF SINER — jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Position:

Defensive line

The hope: The Panthers improve on one of the worst pass rushes in the league last season. Charles Johnson returns to 2010 form where he had 11.5 sacks and Andre Neblett is healthy in Week 5 when his suspension is over.

The fear: Greg Hardy continues his lackluster preseason play while Johnson doesn’t live up to the expectations his $72 million contract carries. But the pass rush can’t get much worse than last season, where Carolina recorded only 31 sacks.

Fact checker: Opponents are 38 percent on third-down conversions this preseason. The team brough tin veteran tackle Dwan Edwards to get a better vertical push up the middle to help the ends.

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Position:

Linebackers

The hope: Thomas Davis and Jon Beason return to full health and start for the Panthers for more than two games in one season for the first time since 2009. Also, rookie Luke Kuechly continues his great play in the preseason and leads the team in tackles.

The fear: Certainly the biggest fear is Davis reinjures that ACL for a fourth time while Beason never gets that hamstring right. If those two can’t stay back on the field, it’s definitely a shot to team morale.

Fact checker: Carolina’s first-half defense, consisting mostly of its starters, allowed 29 points in the first three preseason games. Davis has a sack, Kuechly a forced fumble and Jason Phillips an interception for the first-half linebackers.

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Position:

Defensive backs

The hope: As the pass rush improves, so too does the secondary. A greater pass rush makes opposing quarterbacks force poor throws that gives DBs an easier job. The Panthers could use more than the XX interceptions they had last year.

The fear: The Panthers aren’t terribly deep in the secondary, with rookie Josh Norman as the only real candidate to unseat a starter in Captain Munnerlyn. Carolina was hoping for production out of Brandon Hogan, but he’s sideline for the year on injured reserve. Another injury could spell trouble for Carolina.

Fact checker: Three interceptions for the Panthers secondary in the first four preseason games. In the first three games in which the starters played, opponents have 617 passing yards on the Panthers in those three games, but the starters have allowed just one touchdown.

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Position:

Specialists

The hope: Justin Medlock will kick it out of the end zone and nail 50-plus yard field goals. Rookie punter Brad Nortman will be able to down the ball inside the 20 and avoid touchbacks while booming it out of the end zone when need be. Joe Adams will return punts the same way he did at Arkansas, which first caught the Panthers’ eye.

The fear: Medlock is 1-for-2 in field goals in his NFL career, and if that continues, Olindo Mare may be missed. Nortman could outkick his coverage, which led to opponents averaging 13.3 yards on returns when Jason Baker was the starter last year.

Fact checker: Medlock was perfect in the preseason before going to Pittsburgh, where he missed two tries from 50-plus yards. Kealoha Pilares didn’t necessarily impress returning kicks, and Adams increased the Panthers’ average from last year on punt returns by 7.4 yards per return

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