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Senn embraces opportunity

Posted Nov 30, 2011

CHARLOTTE - When Jordan Senn arrived at training camp in late July, the linebacker could hardly believe his eyes.

"When we went into camp and saw all the linebackers we had, we were looking around thinking, 'Who are they going to release? We are deep,' " Senn said. "They had just as hard a time as we thought they would because they decided to keep eight. It's good that we have that many guys who can play."

The Panthers kept Senn first and foremost for his special teams ability, but when injuries left the team with just four of those eight linebackers healthy enough for last Sunday's trip to Indianapolis, Senn got his first NFL start.

Much like when Senn made the roster out of training camp, he's now making it difficult for the Panthers to consider making a lineup change.

"If somebody coming back isn't 100 percent healthy, I'd rather have Jordan on the football field," head coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday while announcing that Senn would start Sunday at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "You look for guys to take advantage of opportunities, and he's a classic example of a guy who has done that."

That's what Senn, who established a career high and tied for the team lead with 10 tackles against the Colts, has been doing his entire football life – despite some obvious obstacles.

At 224 pounds, Senn is the lightest projected starter at linebacker for Week 13 in the NFL – by 16 pounds. And just one projected starter, 5-foot-10 London Fletcher of the Washington Redskins, is shorter than the 5-11 Senn.

"I've always thought I can do it, and when I get a chance, I'm always ready and know what I'm supposed to do," Senn said. "A lot of it is just that want-to on the field, that motor and drive you have on the field to get there and make the play.

"A lot of it also comes down to understanding your opponent as much as you can from watching film, trying to diagnose what they're going to do before they do it. That makes your reactions that much faster."

What he lacks in size and speed – "I'm not freakishly fast," Senn said – he makes up for with smarts and strength.

"I think the fullbacks from Indianapolis know who he is," Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "I noticed early on in training camp that he was a warrior. You can go to war with that."

Senn played linebacker for just one year at Portland State, a school near his hometown of Beaverton, Ore., that gave him an opportunity after some bigger programs only offered him chance to walk on. He began his college career at safety.

Senn wasn't drafted in 2008, but the Colts signed him as a free agent,and he ranked second on the team in special teams tackles with 15.

The Colts waived him in the middle of the 2009 season. The Panthers signed him later in the season, and he finished third on the team with 12 special teams tackles – in just six games. Last year, he was tied for fourth with nine.

As the Panthers' need for him on defense has increased this season, Senn's special teams opportunities have dwindled but not disappeared. He has played on all four kick units in the past – the coverage and return units for kickoffs and punts – but now Carolina is forcing him to rest on kickoff and punt return.

"Between 50-some plays on defense and 20-some plays on special teams, he plays a game-and-a-half basically," McDermott said. "And at the end he's still going hard."

Senn, it seems, doesn't know any other way.

"He's plays hard. He plays physical," Rivera said. "And he's shown that he has an understanding and feel for what we're doing."