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Ejiro Evero sees new people, but hears "high level" dialogue in meetings

Ejiro Evero

CHARLOTTE — In terms of players on the field, things couldn't be much more different for Ejiro Evero this season.

But it's what will be the same that he thinks can give a new-look defense a good head start in the coming year.

While the defense's turnover was significant, having the entire defensive staff back and extending star defensive tackle Derrick Brown was a big first step toward creating what he hopes can be an improved group.

They haven't been on the field together yet, but what Evero has heard in meeting rooms this week has been a positive sign for him.

"The one thing I will say is that I'm really, really, really excited about the group of guys that we have right now," Evero said Thursday. "These first four days have just been really exciting and we know that we've got a lot of good football players, talented football players, but also just the football dialogue.

"I feel like the football dialogue that we have right now is at such a high level from all the different position rooms when we get together collectively, so it's exciting for me."

Jonathan Cooley, Ejiro Evero

Keeping all his assistants here, and himself, wasn't a given, considering he interviewed for the head coaching job for the second straight offseason. But he said he's excited about working alongside head coach Dave Canales (and Canales talks about their Seahawks vs. Rams duels practically every time he talks), and feels a particular energy.

That helps because so many of the players are new.

Of the 11 who started last year's opener against the Falcons, only Brown, Shy Tuttle, Shaq Thompson, Jaycee Horn, and Xavier Woods remain on the roster.

In their place came a raft of replacements, most of whom had some kind of tie to Evero and his assistants.

Whether it was defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson and safety Jordan Fuller who were with him in Los Angeles or linebacker Josey Jewell who had his best season under Evero in Denver, there's a benefit of everyone speaking the same language.

"I wouldn't say better equipped, but I feel so much better about our starting point compared to last year," Evero said. "Just with the experience and knowledge and foundation of the system. Every player that we have has been in, most of the players that we've had have been in some version of our system with the same dialogue and language and communication skills.

"And so from that standpoint, we are a lot further ahead than we were this time last year."

Josey Jewell

The biggest difference might be on run defense, where they added Robinson to a front with Tuttle and Brown. Jewell augments Thompson in the middle after they often had to patchwork lineups and use guys out of position once Thompson suffered a broken leg in Week 2. They were 23rd in total rushing yards allowed last year, but that was a volume issue, as they allowed the fifth-most rushing attempts in the league since opponents were never behind in the fourth quarter. They ranked 12th in yards per attempt, but Evero thinks being stouter up front will matter.

"Big difference, big difference," Evero said. "When you think about A'Shawn and Derek and Shy, it doesn't get any bigger than that," he said. "In terms of having a big front, guys that are physical, could play the run games, guys that are very, very intelligent, and understand angles and blocking schemes and things of that nature.

"And so yeah, we are excited about where our run defense could go this year."

The bigger questions are in terms of pass rush.

With Brian Burns and Frankie Luvu leading the way out the door this offseason, 24.5 of the team's 27 sacks in 2023 are gone (the 2.5 remaining were from Brown and Tuttle).

Jadeveon Clowney

But they were aggressive in free agency, signing D.J. Wonnum (8.0 sacks last year) early in free agency and Jadeveon Clowney (9.5) later. Evero was particularly encouraged about the Clowney addition, as the former No. 1 overall pick lends some credence to a remade position group.

"I'm so excited about JD, as he goes by," Evero said, as opposed to all the DJs around here (Wonnum, DJ Johnson, Dane Jackson on defense alone). "Obviously, we all know his track record, but the playstyle is what I'm really excited about. The guy just plays hard. He's physical, he's tough, he plays the way we want play.

"I know there's a lot of comfort for him being closer to home there and his family. And he's been, he's been great these first couple of days going through the offseason program; I love having his energy in the building and talking to him in the meeting rooms and the insight and feedback that he gives to the younger players."

Between the combination of veterans like Clowney, the familiarity of the staff staying put, and a few key players, it's a little like stability if you squint at it.

But Evero is also conditioned to change, having finished each of the last two seasons under interim coaches (in Denver in 2022 and here last year). So when you accept change as a reality of the league, it's easier to move forward.

Derrick Brown

Perhaps no bigger symbol of that comes from Brown, the 2020 first-rounder who got a long-term deal last week to stop the run of high picks ending up in other places. When you're trying to build a defense, having a foundation like Brown is a good place to start.

"I think the message for Derrick is that Derrick is that great guy, and great guys who are talented players who work hard and do things the right way get rewarded," Evero said. "And that's exactly what happened. When I think about going back to this time last year when we first got with Derrick, the development that he's had as a player and as a person.

"You know, it's really interesting. Today, I was in a defensive line meeting room with coach (Todd) Wash and the D-linemen and Derrick is in there. And Wash will ask him a question about a technique and Derrick is in there coaching it up.

"And it's just amazing to see the growth that this young man has had. Obviously, the tape in the film and the production speaks for itself, but really, really happy for him, and he's obviously earned that extension."

View photos from the weight room and the practice field as the Panthers' players went through their second day of voluntary offseason workouts on April 9, 2024.

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