Drilling in: Defense

© Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Panthers unit by unit analysis

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LDE Julius Peppers, DT Kawann Short, DT Dontari Poe, LDE Mario Addison. Backups - DE Wes Horton, DT Vernon Butler, DT Kyle Love, DE Bryan Cox Jr., DE Daeshon Hall, DE Marquis Haynes, DT Drew Iddings, DT Ashaad Mabry, DE Zach Moore, DE Kendrick Norton, DE Efe Obada, DE Karter Schult, DT Tracy Sprinkle.

The pass rush has been the most notable asset for this group. With Addison helping lead the charge and Peppers back for another season as one of the all-time best at getting to quarterbacks, they'll look to maintain that trend. But the middle will need to be hardened to some degree, particularly with roster turnover along the front. Poe arrives as a free agent from Atlanta with the ability to help be a big (all 346 pounds big) factor. Yet one of the keys could be Butler, who was a first-round draft pick in 2016 and has shown only occasional signs of living up to that billing.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - SOLB Thomas Davis, MLB Luke Kuechly, WOLB Shaq Thompson. Backups - David Mayo, Rich Brown, Jermaine Carter Jr., Chris Frey, Ben Jacobs, Jared Norris, Andre Smith.

Kuechly continues to be one of the best in the game, though he's injury prone and that means there's always a plan to keep him limited during preseason (not to mention he had offseason labrum surgery on his left shoulder). Thompson has emerged and he could move to the elite level. While Davis is listed as a starter, he'll miss the first four games with an NFL suspension so that means opportunity for one of the younger backups. Mayo is better suited for the middle (as Kuechly's backup), but he has the best credentials among the others at this point. Carter might have the edge among the others in the group.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB James Bradberry, SS Mike Adams, FS Da'Norris Searcy, RCB Kevon Seymour. Backups - S Colin Jones, CB Ross Cockrell, CB Captain Munnerlyn, S Demetrious Cox, CB Lorenzo Ross, CB Corn Elder, S Rashaan Gaulden, CB LaDarius Gunter, CB Donte Jackson, CB Cole Luke, S Damian Parms, S Dezmen Southward.

Bradberry is suddenly one of the staples of this unit and if he can make improvements for this season as much as he did for his second pro season last year then there's reason for optimism. There could be good competition at cornerback, particularly with Cockrell figuring to make a bid to be a starter with his hometown team. Adams is a veteran voice in the secondary and that's something that needs to be established. Gaulden was drafted with the intent that he'll move into a valuable role, but the speed at which that happens depends on how he responds during the preseason.

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