As the Panthers prepare for training camp, we're going to take a position-by-position look at what to expect when they get to Spartanburg. Today we're taking a look at the linebackers.
CHARLOTTE — The Panthers want to do a lot of different stuff on defense.
To pull that off, you either need to have guys who can do a lot of different things, or more guys who are good at particular things than you can accumulate in one offseason.
But with a couple of significant newcomers, the Panthers added a lot to their linebacker corps and their defense as a whole this offseason.
There may be no bigger acquisition for the Panthers from this past offseason than former Cardinals first-rounder Haason Reddick, whose bio says linebacker but that doesn't begin to describe what he does.
The addition of Denzel Perryman — a classic run-stopping, hard-hitting inside linebacker of the type they don't make often anymore — also adds to the arsenal for defensive coordinator Phil Snow, even if he never plays on third downs.
Considering they also had a very good piece in Shaq Thompson, the Panthers have the chance to be more versatile at linebacker this year. The fact that's true without Jeremy Chinn — who will still roam but will play mostly as a safety this year — makes it more impressive to consider how far they've come in a year.
What's new: The Panthers took advantage of a depressed market for Reddick, and were able to bring him in on a one-year deal, after a career season for the Cardinals.
He had 12.5 sacks and six forced fumbles last year, and the possibilities he creates rushing opposite defensive end Brian Burns are fascinating. Burns has already talked about the sack competition that's sure to unfold, and is anticipating the help as well.
Perryman has struggled with injuries in the past, but when he's well, he's a thumper. Having him to play on early downs with Thompson gave them the flexibility to consider Chinn as a defensive back this year, which could be good for the team and Chinn as well (as the attrition rate for 215-pound linebackers is higher than for 215-pound safeties).
They also brought in former Jet Frankie Luvu, and he could fit in as a backup pass-rusher and offer special teams help.
What's old: Thompson has battled through some injuries in recent years, but has still been a very good player.
What they hope to do is put more pieces around him, so he doesn't have to play as much.
Thompson played 1,031 snaps on defense last year, more than 97 percent of the team's total plays. Head coach Matt Rhule said during minicamp the goal was to cut into that number, so the 27-year-old Thompson can be fresher late in the season.
What we know: With all these guys who fit into certain niches, Jermaine Carter's trying to prove he can fill more than one.
Carter's made a point to learn all the linebacker responsibilities, and showed in a late audition last year (when he replaced an injured and ineffective Tahir Whitehead) that he could reliably man the middle. He's a more mobile linebacker than Perryman, and able to do more things.
His versatility helps, as they try to build packages which maximize what other individuals can do.
What we don't: How they'll actually deploy all these guys.
The Panthers love having options, and having multiple "inside" linebackers of varying skill sets has given them the chance to experiment.
The spring was spent seeing which of those looks intrigue them enough to continue, in hopes of being multiple once the season starts.
What to expect: This group is better than it was a year ago, by miles. As fun as it was watching Chinn run around last year, he transitioned from the secondary largely out of necessity. Now that they have some actual linebackers around, he's free to build on the things he's best at.
It will be interesting to see what the numbers on the roster look like heading into the regular season, because they also have special teams standout Julian Stanford back.
View photos of Haason Reddick during his four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals from 2017-20.