CHARLOTTE – Things started to click for defensive end Kony Ealy in the second half of his rookie season.
The 2014 second-round draft choice from Missouri recorded a sack in each of the last three regular season games and four total.
Then came Ealy's first true NFL offseason, and as defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has learned over the years, some young players take that for granted.
"In the sophomore offseason you find a lot of guys that have the relaxation syndrome set in," McDermott explained. "They are not used to having an offseason. They had the Scouting Combine and then came straight to us as rookies. Then they get to that offseason (in year two), they've had some success and human nature is to down shift a little bit."
Ealy, instead, shifted his offseason into high gear. He trained hard and continued to refine his fundamentals with the hopes of making a bigger impact in 2015.
"I'm just trying to elevate my game and take it to another level," Ealy said after a recent OTA practice. "I want to help the team out more than I did last year."
Defensive line coach Eric Washington constantly works on his players' burst off the line of scrimmage. It's something he monitors intently each practice.
So Ealy made it a priority in training.
"The one thing we preach is get off," Ealy said. "So I worked on that get off and my jump starts. Expectations are high for this D-line so you just have to go out there and be an animal."
Ealy is one of several defensive ends aiming to solidify the spot opposite veteran stalwart Charles Johnson. That position will be under a microscope now that defensive end Greg Hardy, who posted a franchise-record 15 sacks in 2013, is with the Dallas Cowboys.
Replacing 15 sacks is no easy task, but after getting his feet wet as a rookie, Ealy is better prepared for an expanded role.
"I've transitioned but am still learning and trying to mold myself in the league," Ealy said. "It's hard work, and I take it one day at a time.
"I embrace anything the team asks me to do. I don't want to look too far ahead or worry about other people. I'm just here to do my job to the best of my ability and contribute way more than I did last year."