CHARLOTTE — How slow of a start did the Panthers' pass rush get off to in 2016?
Safety Tre Boston led the team with 2.0 sacks after six games.
But thanks in part to a secondary that grew up on the job, Carolina made life miserable for quarterbacks after the team's bye, racking up an NFL-best 35 sacks over its final 10 games.
Now, with five of the franchise's top nine all-time sack leaders on the roster and healthy heading into a new year, linebacker Thomas Davis predicts big things in 2017.
"It truly can be a special season," he said after Sunday's practice. "A few years ago we were able to set the sack record, but I think this group that we have is capable of being better than that."
After totaling a franchise-best 60.0 sacks in 2013, the Panthers combined for 131.0 sacks the past three seasons – good for second-most in the league during that timeframe (Broncos, 135.0). Then, this spring, they added Julius Peppers, who leads the franchise and current NFL players in sacks.
Combine the future Hall of Famer with Charles Johnson, Mario Addison, Davis and Kawann Short, and you get 26.2 percent of Carolina's 844.0 all-time sacks. And you really can't blame Davis for being so confident.
"Those guys are special," said Davis of the defensive line. "I'm happy to be playing behind them. When you look at what they're capable of doing up front, they're capable of totally dominating a football game."
So far in the preseason, Davis and his teammates have shown a sampling of what may be ahead. He, Mario Addison and Kawann Short have all earned sacks in limited snaps.
But like a head coach is supposed to do, Ron Rivera tried to curb the enthusiasm –for now. Because things that look good on paper obviously don't always translate on the field.
"We feel we've got good pass rushers," Rivera said, "we feel we've got guys that have learned and grown as cover guys, but we'll see what happens. You never really know until you start playing."