LBs embody "Will" to win

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- In an ideal world, the Panthers wouldn"t be debating how to line up their linebackers.

But in the world that is the NFL, a place where players go down to injury all too often, such conundrums are commonplace.

Jon Beason, who excelled at middle linebacker in his first three pro seasons, lined up on the weak side when training camp began Thursday morning at Wofford College. 

Dan Connor took snaps in the middle, and James Anderson occupied the strong side.

With weakside linebacker Thomas Davis possibly lost for the season with a knee injury suffered during summer school on June 8, that"s the plan -- at least for now.

"We don"t know what our best combination is going to be yet. That"s why we"re here in camp," head coach John Fox said. "That will be a day-by-day evaluation, and we"ll try to get our best three on the field."

Davis, Beason and Anderson seemed set to start with Connor serving as the top backup at all three spots before Davis tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee for the second time in seven months.

The Panthers have responded by moving Beason into Davis" spot and inserting Connor into his more natural role in the middle.

"Whatever"s going to help the team win," Beason said. "Thomas was obviously a big part of our defense, and if moving me is going to make us better, that"s what I want to do.

"It"s still a little different, but it"s something I"ve done before in college. I kind of have a comfort level, but I"m still working through it."

Connor feels completely comfortable as the man in the middle. That was his primary role at Penn State, where he racked up a school record 419 tackles.

"I"m a middle linebacker naturally, so it feels good," said Connor, who appears set to get the first starting assignment of his pro career regardless of the specific alignment. "I"m enjoying it, and I"ve still got Jon to talk to. He"s been playing it, so you"ve got one of the top guys in the league to go to with questions.

"It"s a good situation for me."

The communication aspects of the situation go well beyond private chats between Connor and Beason. Before Davis" injury, Beason called the defensive sets in the huddle and then called out the pre-snap adjustments. With his move to the outside, Beason still is the voice in the huddle, but Connor is taking over after the defense disperses.

"I had a comfort level already with making the checks and the calls and stuff, but Coach wants to put a little bit more of the load on Dan," Beason said. "He"s a quiet guy, so maybe this will get him to open up a little bit, to show his personality.

"I think it"s going to be good for him."

Likewise, Connor thinks the move could be a good one for Beason. While some believe playing on the weak side can limit the number of opportunities a linebacker has to make an impact, Connor actually sees it as a perfect fit for Beason"s blend of speed and strength.

In the first practice of training camp, Connor looked like a prophet. On the first snap of a team period that wrapped up practice, Beason stepped in the path of a Matt Moore pass, only to bobble the ball and miss out on a potential interception.

"Those are balls I should catch," Beason said, joking that he"d play wide receiver if it would benefit the Panthers. "Just like I"d go play running back, too, but I don"t know if that"s going to help the team. I think it would, but that"s just my opinion."

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