CHARLOTTE – Dating back to organized team activities, head coach Ron Rivera has been waiting for a defensive end to grab hold of the starting spot opposite Charles Johnson.
Following Sunday's practice, Rivera was pleased to say that wait is over.
Second-year defensive end Kony Ealy, who recorded a sack in each of the last two preseason games, has earned the three-down role and will open the season as the starter.
"He has taken the bull by the horns," Rivera said. "Kony has really stepped up. He's done a really nice job, and I'm pleased with his development.
"He's earned the opportunity."
When defensive end Frank Alexander went down with a torn Achilles against the Miami Dolphins, the spotlight on Ealy brightened, and he's delivered.
Perhaps the urgency of the situation brought out the best in Ealy, who compiled four sacks and 12 tackles as a rookie. Carolina has longed for someone to step up, especially with Alexander's absence impacting the unit's depth.
Ealy's emergence is encouraging, and Rivera wants the former second-round draft pick to continue to ascend in his prominent role.
"I hope he continues to fight at it," Rivera said, "and I hope the other guys behind him keep pushing him."