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Position preview: Defensive ends

Posted Jul 20, 2012

Defensive end Charles Johnson has become a beast, but he'd love more company when it comes to delivering misery.

With 20.5 sacks over the last two seasons, Johnson stands as one of 11 NFL defensive ends with more than 20 over that time. The list doesn't include Julius Peppers, the Panthers' all-time sacks leader whom Johnson replaced in the lineup when Peppers signed with the Chicago Bears.

While Johnson has developed into a force, the rest of the Panthers have totaled just 41.5 sacks since 2010, adding up to a 62-sack total that's less than all but five NFL teams over the period.

But there's plenty of potential beyond Johnson, among returners and rookies alike.

RETURNERS

Charles Johnson
Despite being slowed by injuries at times, led team with nine sacks in 15 games last season. … Recorded 11.5 sacks in 2010, his first season as a full-time starter, including at least one sack in six consecutive games to match a franchise record. ... Third-round draft pick in 2007 had 10 sacks over 2008 and 2009 seasons in a reserve role.

Greg Hardy
Started all 16 games last season, ranking first among Panthers defensive linemen with 50 tackles and tying for second with four sacks. … Led team with 17 quarterback pressures and 11 passes defensed. … Recorded three sacks as a rookie in a reserve role in 2010, when he was a sixth-round draft pick. … Recorded a safety each of first two seasons.

Thomas Keiser
Recorded four sacks over final eight games of 2011 season to tie for second on Panthers after spending first eight games on team's practice squad. … Had two sacks in second career game and a sack and interception two weeks later. … Undrafted rookie out of Stanford signed with Panthers before training camp.

Antwan Applewhite
Re-signed with Panthers in March after productive first season with team. … Played in 12 games, recording 21 tackles, two sacks and a safety. … Spent first four NFL seasons with San Diego Chargers, starting 13 games in 2010 as outside linebacker in 3-4 scheme.

Eric Norwood
Played in 13 games last season, mostly on special teams. … Played in 15 games as a rookie in 2010, recording a sack and forced fumble (on the same play) and ranking fourth on team with 10 special teams tackle. … Fourth-round pick out of South Carolina.


ROOKIES

Frank Alexander
Fourth-round draft pick was Co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and second-team All-American as a senior at Oklahoma. … Led the conference with 8.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. … Tied school record with 14 passes defensed in career. … Sat out NFL Combine after doctor thought he discovered a hole in Alexander's heart, a finding discounted by subsequent testing.

Ryan Van Bergen
Undrafted rookie split time at Michigan between defensive end and defensive tackle. … Led Wolverines in sacks past two seasons and ranked second in 2009, finishing career with 14.5 sacks and 27.5 tackles for loss.


RECENTLY ROSTERED

Jyles Tucker
Signed with Panthers in February after being out of the NFL in 2011. … Undrafted rookie out of Wake Forest spent first four seasons with San Diego Chargers. … Started 12 games in 2008 and ranked second on team with 5.5 sacks. … Played just total 10 games played in 2009 and 2010 because of injuries.


Panthers.com is taking a position-by-position look at the 90-man roster leading up training camp, having previously profiled quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, offensive linemen, tight ends, special teams, linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties.