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Defense playing fast

Posted Aug 26, 2010

CHARLOTTE – Panthers linebacker Jon Beason couldn't be more pleased with the defense's start to the season, saying that improvement on his side of the ball would come from being "more perfect."

What exactly is driving the near-perfection through two preseason games?

"The key is that we're playing fast, and guys aren't making mistakes," Beason said. "We have guys out there who know how to play the game, full speed and all out.

"When that's the case, good things happen."

Good things certainly have come from the defense heading into Saturday night's visit by the Tennessee Titans. Carolina leads the NFL – by nearly 40 yards – in total yards allowed (168.5) and passing yards allowed (90.0). The Panthers "only" rank sixth in rushing yards allowed (78.5) but lead the league with five forced fumbles.

"It feels good to get off to a fast start," defensive end Everette Brown said.

"Fast" is indeed a buzzword for this defense. James Anderson at strongside linebacker and Sherrod Martin at safety are faster than their predecessors, plus the abundance of young players like defensive end Greg Hardy and hybrid Eric Norwood bring speed along with the added bonus of motors that aren't worn down.

"We've definitely picked up speed," Brown said. "Last game we really had 11 guys flying to the ball, all trying to make a play."

In addition, "slow" is a buzzword as well. Second-year and third-year players like Brown, Martin and defensive tackle Nick Hayden are just getting up to full speed on how to function at a high level in the NFL.

"Everything is going better. Things are not moving as fast," said Brown, a rookie in 2009. "I'm able to read formations better. I'm able to get a better pre-snap read, which allows me to play faster.

"That's the key to my game – being able to play fast and run down the ball."

Plus, for all the returning players on a Panthers defense that ranked eighth in the NFL in total yards allowed in 2009, it's their second year in defensive coordinator Ron Meeks' system.

"Coach Meeks had that mentality coming in to play fast and create turnovers, and we rep it every single day. It's starting to show up on the field," linebacker Dan Connor said. "We've been practicing well, running around and trying to create turnovers."

While Connor and Co. are getting more comfortable with Meeks, Connor is among those benefiting from an increased comfort level with their position within the defense. Connor has played middle linebacker most of his football life, and this season he's set to play there since an injury to Thomas Davis resulted in a shift of the linebackers.

"We feel more and more comfortable with each other with each experience, whether it be practices or games," Connor said. "I'm embracing it."

So many defenders have played well that it's creating a good problem to have for the coaching staff. Many wondered where the sacks would come from with the departure of Julius Peppers up front, but through two games, five defensive linemen already have multiple sacks.

"Good teams are deep at the D-line position," Beason said. "If we can have a rotation where guys can stay fresh, I think it's going to show. I think it has so far.

"It's going to be interesting to see what happens. I think the coaches have some tough decisions to make."