CHARLOTTE – There was a time when Haason Reddick felt like he was in exactly the right place.
Then he became a first-round pick. Then, metaphorically at least, he was lost in the desert for a few years. Then, he started to find himself again. Then, he came back to the East Coast, and possibly, home.
It's been a twisting path for the newest Panthers' pass-rusher, with three disappointing years in Arizona, followed by a brilliant fourth, then a reunion with the coaches he knows from his college days at Temple, who put him in position to be his best.
"It's been crazy; just the thought of linking up with a coaching staff I knew from college, and so many Temple players, just linking up with those guys has been crazy," Reddick said upon his arrival in Charlotte, and signing a one-year deal with the Panthers. "Looking at the pieces that's being added to the defense with what's here, it's exciting.
"I'm a great addition, and I think we're going to wreck a lot of things."
The statistics suggest that's entirely possible.
Reddick had a career-high 12.5 sacks and six forced fumbles for the Cardinals last year, when they finally started using him the way Panthers head coach Matt Rhule and defensive coordinator Phil Snow did at Temple.
After choosing him 13th overall in the 2017 draft (following a 9.5-sack, 22.5-tackles for loss senior year), the Cardinals tried to turn Reddick into an inside linebacker, asking him to read and react and cover and direct traffic, which was a reasonable idea considering his body shape and athleticism. He was 220 pounds in college, a leaner version of the 245 he's carrying now, so there was a natural concern about his ability to hold up on the edge.
But it's also like drafting a really good apple and expecting it to taste like a great orange.
"All throughout college, for the most part, I was playing that defensive end/outside linebacker role," Reddick said, "I had crafted it, got good at it at Temple, and that helped get me to the first round. Trying the inside linebacker thing wasn't really my niche. Trying to learn it at the highest level of the game, with how fast the game moved was tough.
"Moving back outside and rushing, that's for me. That's what I do, get to the quarterback, get to the backfield and being disruptive. That's what I do, and I'm glad that I'm here now and somewhere that's understood and they know what I can do."
That's the expectation here, as the Panthers wanted to add some juice to a pass-rush that includes an ascending Brian Burns (9.0 sacks last year) but no other consistent source of pressure. But as he considered free agent offers, Reddick looked at Burns and 2020 first-round pick Derrick Brown and realized something's cooking here, saying: "This D-line could be stacked."
Reddick said in his early talks with Rhule and Snow, the expectations are clear. They're going to ask him to do what he did so well for them at Temple — get after quarterbacks. If that means lining up as a defensive end, fine. If it means standing up and rushing opposite Burns, sure. The important part is the result.
"I talked to Snow, he basically left it up to me. If I want to put a hand in the dirt I can, or a two-point stance, I can," Reddick said. "Depending on how I'm feeling, I might put the hand in the dirt. If not, I'll be in a two-point stance. Either way, I'll be causing havoc."
That he wasn't able to do that for a few years in Arizona made some wonder if he'd be able to, and that resulted in a mixed market.
Reddick took a one-year deal (as many players did in a year in which the salary cap went down from $198.2 million to $182.5 million), which also gives him a chance to be a free agent again next year when finances should be more normal. But he's also convinced coming here gives him the best chance to flourish.
"I had a great year, but there's still a lot of teams who wonder is this guy a great pass-rusher, can he do this at a high level, or was last season a fluke?" Reddick said of the last week of pitches from teams and offers. "We're going to show them this year, it's far from a fluke."
View photos of Haason Reddick during his four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals from 2017-20.