Max Henson Staff Writer
Charlotte, NC – Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott knows the members of his defense are lucky.
They may not feel that way every day in practice when trying to slow down the Panthers’ explosive, diverse offensive attack, but the point remains.
“You won’t find many offenses with the talent that we have, with as many weapons and the different challenging facets that they bring to the table,” McDermott said. “It only makes us better.”
The Carolina offense brings quite a bit to the table, and as far as McDermott’s defense is concerned, the complexity it faces on the practice field in Charlotte serves as invaluable preparation.
Now in his second season as the Panthers defensive coordinator, McDermott is doing all he can to ensure the prep work currently being done translates into success once the regular season kicks off.
“We’re not where we need to be,” McDermott said, “but we’ve made progress.”
McDermott used a common baseball term to convey the philosophy of his defensive line.
“We’ll throw fastballs at the quarterback and get after him,” McDermott said.
Safe to say McDermott will be bringing the heat, and defensive end Charles Johnson is the ace of his D-line rotation. He’s posted 20.5 sacks over the last two seasons and will be counted on to set the tone for the Panthers’ pass rush.
“Charles spearheads that effort for us,” McDermott said.
Johnson should be even more disruptive with Ron Edwards drawing attention and occupying space in the middle.
The 6-3, 300-pound defensive tackle has returned to action after missing all of last season. His presence has provided a noticeable boost.
“Ron’s impact has been very significant,” McDermott said. “He can be a force up front and keep our linebackers clean.”
Clean linebackers tend to make a mess of things for an offense.
Rookie Luke Kuechly has flashed the ability to do just that.
The first-round draft choice has consistently made plays, whether it be in training camp or preseason games. McDermott — like everyone else — has been impressed.
“Early returns right now are positive. He’s come in and first and foremost, earned the respect of the coaches and players with the way he’s handled himself both on and off the field,” McDermott said. “The game comes naturally for Luke. Those instincts at the linebacker position are hard to come by, and he has them.”
McDermott is anxious to see how Kuechly fits in alongside three-time Pro Bowler Jon Beason, but a hamstring injury has forced the veteran middle linebacker to the sideline.
The Panthers need their “quarterback on defense” – the sooner, the better.
“We need him back on the field as soon as we can,” McDermott said. “There is no flipping the switch in this league. The talent level is too good and the level of play is too high for anybody to expect to just jump back in there.”
McDermott does expect a sizeable improvement in the secondary.
“The personnel department did a nice job of adding some guys that are competing,” he said.
Free-agent signing Haruki Nakamura continues to battle Sherrod Martin at the free safety spot. And over at cornerback, Josh Norman has made a push for playing time after overcoming a hamstring injury in training camp.
Norman has shown a nose for the ball and a desire to impose his physicality on receivers in coverage. At times, the fifth-round pick has been over-aggressive, but that’s a functional starting point when entering McDermott’s defense.
“It’s always easier when you have a player that’s too physical and you have to tell him to tone it down a little bit, as opposed to a guy that’s not physical,” McDermott said. “Those players usually don’t last very long.”