CHARLOTTE – They have a lot to prove.
That's been the early message from members of the Panthers defense.
"Of course, our defense has to step up," defensive end Charles Johnson said. "The defense didn't do as well as it should have last year. I guarantee that'll be the main priority this year."
To reach their full potential, the defense will need Johnson, who led the team with nine sacks last season and has 20.5 over the last two years, to perform at 100 percent.
Right now he's not.
"I'm not 100 percent yet," Johnson said, "but I'm back out there (at the three-day camp) trying to participate as much as I can, trying to get my knee right."
Johnson was working out earlier in the offseason when he felt some discomfort in his right knee and determined it was worth examining.
"I guess just from running too much. It swelled up on me a little bit," Johnson explained. "The first time I just let it go, iced it up. But then we went back and got an MRI, and they found some stuff in there so they went in and cleaned it up.
"I could have played through the season without the scope, but we wanted to go ahead and get it done so it won't be a problem for me during the season."
Johnson fought through back issues toward the end of last season but says his back is healthy now.
As he works his knee to full strength, Johnson expects to be a full participant at training camp from start to finish, eagerly awaiting the latter.
"I'm ready for training camp to start. And I'm ready for training camp to end," Johnson said with a smile.
He's also ready to push the defense to the level he knows it must reach.
"The defense is going to be on point this year," Johnson said, "and we're going to make sure of that."