SPARTANBURG, S.C. – After Super Bowl 50, defensive end Kony Ealy was put in a unique position. He had to handle incredible success and incredible disappointment at the same time.
He sacked Peyton Manning three times in that game and picked him off once. But he ultimately lost the most important game of his life.
Now the former second-round pick is widely considered a major breakthrough candidate as he enters his third NFL season. But everyone still wants to talk about that Super Bowl performance.
"At the end of the day, it was a group effort, it wasn't an individual effort – that's the way I take it," Ealy said. "I'm past that. I'm at the training camp phase getting ready for preseason.
"I'm capitalizing off of (the Super Bowl), of course. But I'm just taking every day to get better."
While the overwhelming majority of viewers were shocked by Ealy's performance on the biggest stage, he felt he was capable of it all along.
"It didn't open up my eyes, it opened up (the media's) eyes," Ealy said. "I've always had faith in myself, no matter how hard I struggled.
"My coaches were just waiting on that moment for me having a game like that. It just happened to be the Super Bowl. Now I'm looking forward to that being each game I play in, you know?"
Ealy has no doubt raised the bar. And he's no doubt raised his profile.
Head coach Ron Rivera is interested to see how he handles all of it.
"I'm not worried about him physically or what he can or can't do as a football player. I want to make sure that he can handle it mentally – the rigors, the demands, the ups and downs that come along with it," Rivera said. "What he did in the Super Bowl was tremendous. It was a thrill to see. Now he has to handle what a mature football player has to handle. That's what will be the true test."
To his credit, Ealy has said and done all the right things.
He's improved his diet and been more coachable, something that wasn't always the case in his first two years.
And as he likes to say, he's keeping the focus narrow.
"I'm not getting caught up in the hype," Ealy said.
Instead, he's becoming detail oriented as he works to become a consistent force off the edge.
"I came into this league just trying to use my (natural) skills," Ealy said. "This year I am really emphasizing the little things, the technique, just knowing everything out there on the field to make myself that much faster getting to the ball."
View photos from Carolina's third training camp practice.