The Carolina Panthers have always had a very strong linebacking corps, provided everyone remained healthy. They had many tough players dominate the linebacker position such as Kevin Greene, Mark Fields, Will Witherspoon, Dan Morgan, James Anderson, and currently Jon Beason, Luke Kuechly, and Thomas Davis.
Since being drafted by the Panthers in 2007, Beason has established himself as one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL today behind Patrick Willis. Beason has recorded 541 tackles in his first four seasons in the NFL. Unfortunately, he has been plagued with injuries the past two years. He has now played every game in the 2013 preseason and looks to be 100 percent back to full health. With his return, the Panthers believe he can pick up where he left off as the star playmaking captain of the team.
The Panthers’ biggest addition to the defense came last year when they drafted rookie linebacker Kuechly out of Boston College. The young man made a huge statement in his first professional season by leading the league with 164 tackles. Being cheated out of a trip to the Pro Bowl at the end of the season, he still received the NFL 2012 Associated Press NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He has remained injury free and disciplined on and off the field. In the 2013 preseason, it appears that his performance will continue at the highest levels. Kuechly is a player who always finds a way of getting to the ball and making a play. Recording seven tackles, one interception, and one forced fumble in his preseason game versus the Baltimore Ravens, he is most definitely ready for the season opener. He will again be in contention for top linebacker in the league.
Supporting these two stars at linebacker are two veterans Davis and Chase Blackburn. Although Davis is 30 years old, he has still shown he has the skills and heart to compete on the field. He had a great season last year when he was called to step up after Beason was injured. The veteran recorded 105 tackles and proved to be a solid player who could plug up holes and tackle the ball carrier. Blackburn was acquired in the offseason from the New York Giants. This veteran captain has two Super Bowl rings with his former team and a lot of experience in pressure situations. Last season Blackburn led the Giants with 98 total tackles.
Whether a star player can remain healthy for all 16 games in the regular season is a huge key to a team’s success. Behind the dynamic duo of Willis and Navarro Bowman for the San Francisco 49ers, the Panthers have one of the best linebacker threats in the NFL. It will be interesting to watch how the Panthers defense holds up against their opponents in a very difficult schedule. Will they step up, or will they fold?