CHARLOTTE – Last Friday over oatmeal and avocado toast, head coach Ron Rivera shared with then-potential Panthers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy how he envisioned the six-time Pro Bowler fitting in Carolina’s defense.
Rivera’s vision for a defensive line that now has McCoy in the mix after he signed a one-year deal Tuesday?
To make toast of opposing quarterbacks.
“You can feel very good about having those guys on the field together,” Rivera said, referencing a defensive front now featuring McCoy and Kawann Short flanking Dontari Poe. “What he does is he’s a very good complement to KK. He’s a different player than Poe; he’s a pass rush type of guy that’s going to get vertical quickly.
“He’s going to command some double teams, which is going to take some of the pressure off of KK as well.”
McCoy and Short both rank among the most productive pass-rushing defensive tackles in the game today, and that’s while spending their entire pro careers in 4-3 base defenses. Now they’re joining forces and doing so at a time when the Panthers are going to a hybrid look with 3-4 tendencies that could make them even more effective.
That’s how the Panthers’ sack leader each of the past three seasons sees it.
“Gerald is good. Just like KK, dominant,” defensive end Mario Addison said. “I’ve seen how he can just dominate people. He wins by technique. He has a plan every time he does something.”
And the Panthers defense on the whole has a plan to get back its pass-rushing reputation after Short, Poe and the entire defense stumbled a bit in 2018.
Poe’s first year in Carolina didn’t go as hoped, but the Panthers hope his new role in the new defense will spark a turnaround. The addition of McCoy should help that cause as well, and whether the sack stats soar for the new inside trio or not – McCoy (6.0), Short (3.0) and Poe (1.0) combined for 10 sacks last season – the pass rush across the board should benefit.
Addison is set to lead the outside pass rushers along with first-round rookie Brian Burns and veteran addition Bruce Irvin. Last year the Panthers ranked 27th in the league with 35 sacks, their lowest ranking in the Rivera era following three consecutive top-six finishes.
Two weeks ago the Panthers were already feeling good about the possibility of a bounce-back year for the pass rush, even with the retirement of all-time great Julius Peppers. At that point McCoy was what he has always been – a respected rival for the Buccaneers – but then Tampa Bay opted to part ways with him.
“This game is a business,” Addison said, “and you’re probably not going to be with one team your whole career.”
Presented with an unexpected opportunity to make a good situation better, the Panthers pounced. “Pounce” may actually be too strong of a word because the Panthers pitched McCoy pretty much the same way they do any free agent – aside from perhaps lunch with a cross-section of Carolina’s roster hours after the breakfast with Rivera.
“Our players did a great job,” Rivera said. “They all wanted him to know that they felt he was important to us.”
The lunch crew fittingly included Short, who will now have plenty of chances to break bread and break down pass protection schemes alongside McCoy.
"Kawann has been dominant since he set foot in the league," McCoy said. "We can be one of the better tandems in the NFL."