Carolina Panthers

Similar position, different roles

jperson@charlotteobserver.comMay 10, 2013 

Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, the Panthers’ first- and second-round picks in the April draft, are both big and play defensive tackle.

That’s where the comparisons end.

Lotulelei is known best as a run-stuffer, Short a pass rusher.

Lotulelei was born in Tonga and grew up in Utah. Short is from East Chicago, Ind.

Lotulelei, the 14th pick from Utah, is quiet and soft-spoken; Short, the former Purdue standout picked 44th overall, is loud and demonstrative.

And then there’s what Panthers coach Ron Rivera called the most obvious distinction.

“Star is married and KK’s single,” Rivera said, using Short’s nickname.

Despite their different personalities and tax-filing status, Lotulelei and Short figure to be linked at least through the early stages of their NFL careers – 310-pound reminders of the year Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman bet big early in the draft.

Rivera hopes the bond is long and strong.

“When you draft guys like that you have an opportunity to keep them together for a long time,” Rivera said. “They can play together for 6, 7, 8 years down the line and they’ll develop that rapport that you see when a group has been together a while.”

Day 1 was Friday, at least as far as practices go.

The two actually met in February at the combine in Indianapolis, where – unfortunately for them – they had plenty of time to break the ice. Lotulelei was instructed not to participate after doctors diagnosed him with a heart condition – he’s since been cleared – while Short sat out with a hamstring injury.

“We both didn’t work out, so there wasn’t too much to look at,” Lotulelei said. “We were on the sideline talking. He was a real cool guy over there and it’s carried over here.”

Panthers defensive line coach Eric Washington wants Lotulelei and Short to spend time together outside the meeting room and practice field. Despite Lotulelei’s low-key demeanor with reporters, Short said their conversations are far from one-sided.

“We sit there at meetings and barely say anything. We focus and try to learn our playbooks,” Short said. “But when we go to lunch or something, he’s talking and he’s opening up.”

Their discussions this week have been about pass protections, alignments and the speed of the pro game.

“Ten times faster than college, just the tempo and coming out here in this heat,” Short said after the second of two practices Friday at the Panthers’ rookie minicamp. “It’s not usually this hot outside at Purdue.”

Apparently, Short hasn’t heard about Spartanburg. Lotulelei might want to tell him.

“It’s not too bad,” Lotulelei said of the weather. “I don’t think it’s as hot as it’s going to get, yet.”

And the rookie defensive tackles aren’t as comfortable as they’re going to get. Lotulelei talked about improving his technique and getting in better shape.

But Rivera thought Lotulelei moved well.

“Not just quickness but overall – down the field, sideways, great lateral movement,” Rivera said. “So real excited about what he’s going to bring to the table.”

Like Lotulelei, Short also said he needs to refine his pass-rush moves and overall technique.

“Everything has to be perfect. Everybody out here is way better than what they were in college,” Short said. “So your game has to come every day.”

Rivera, an NFL linebacker who played nine seasons in Chicago, believes the games of both Lotulelei and Short will improve because of the other. He speaks from experience.

After the Bears drafted linebacker Wilber Marshall in the first round in 1984, they used their second-round pick on another linebacker – Rivera, who, like Short, was the 44th pick.

“Back in my day I was drafted right behind Wilber Marshall, and it took a lot of pressure off me. I think that’s sort of the situation for KK,” Rivera said. “Star will get a lot more of the attention and it’ll take the pressure off KK. And I think that’ll help him. But at the same time it’ll help Star because he’ll have someone who understands what he’s going through right now.”

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