CHARLOTTE – Mario Addison joined the Panthers late in the 2012 season with little in the way of a pass-rushing reputation around the league, joining a defensive line stuck in the same boat.
But Addison individually and the defensive line as a whole has been building a reputation ever since – in most circles at least.
Addison joined a line in 2012 that arguably deserved more acclaim than it received, with Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy both recording double-digit sacks to catapult Carolina into the top 10 in that category. But the Panthers went 7-9 and missed the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season, so few football folks nationally noticed.
This offseason, however, the Panthers are preparing for a run at earning a fifth playoff berth in six seasons, an impressive stretch that has consistently featured significant contributions from the defensive line.
So, you can understand Addison's confusion when a recent article on NFL.com ranking the top eight defensive lines in the league didn't mention the Panthers. The piece even failed to include the Panthers among four more teams that "just missed" the list.
"I don't know what they've got against Carolina, but they never show us love, never. It's been like that since I got here in 2012," said Addison, who took to Twitter to express his dissenting opinion. "They never give us props. Me and Pep had 11 sacks apiece. If that doesn't say something, what does?
"Why aren't we in there? It's a joke. Not top eight? Not top 10? It's ludicrous."
First-year defensive coordinator Eric Washington, Addison's longtime defensive live coach, took note as well:
The list, by Around the NFL editor Gregg Rosenthal, was presented as "which group I would most want to roll with in 2018," and it is true that past results don't guarantee future performance. The Buccaneers, for example, made the top eight after ranking last in the league with 22 sacks in 2017 but after moving to sign defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry in the offseason. The Panthers ranked third in the NFL with 50 sacks – the fourth time in five years they've finished among the top six.
Carolina lost defensive tackle Star Lotulelei in free agency but added two-time Pro Bowl pick Dontari Poe. He'll team with former All-Pro tackle Kawann Short to form one of the league's most feared duos, and Addison and Peppers return after being one of just three sets of teammates to reach double-digit sacks in 2017.
Addison said that as he looks at the rankings piece but then looks ahead to the fall, "I don't care where we rank," saying it will all take care of itself if the line plays to its full potential.
Addison isn't resting on his laurels (or lack of laurels in the case of NFL.com) when it comes to how the group will perform. The Panthers technically reached the halfway point of organized team activities Wednesday, but there was Addison acting as if the work had just begun.
After most of the practice field cleared out, he stayed behind with most of the team's defensive ends and, with the coaches having already headed inside, led another lesson.
"No player left behind," said Addison, coming off his first double-digit sack season. "Me being experienced now, I remember when I was younger always finding a guy that was compatible to me and picking his brain. We have some young guys here that are just like me, so I was just trying to tell them some different ways you can get on a tackle and beat him."
Before disappearing back into Bank of America Stadium for more work in the weight room and the classroom, Addison shared his thoughts on the addition of Poe and on some of the ends vying for roles alongside him, Peppers and Wes Horton.
On Poe: "We lost Star, but we gained a great player. He's going to pick up where we left off there and probably make it even better. I'm excited to see what he can do."
On Daeshon Hall, coming off a rookie season sidetracked by injuries: "Daeshon has all the tools; once he puts it all together, he's going to be unbelievable. … He's coming along. He's going to get there."
On fourth-round draft pick Marquis Haynes: "Sometimes you've got to make the team by playing special teams – that's how I made the team. You can be pretty good, but sometimes you've got to wait your turn so you have a chance to prove that you're worthy of playing. I think about a guy like Haynes. He's fast, so I know he can be a beast on special teams because he's got unbelievable speed."
On recently signed tryout Karter Schult, who led the Football Championship Subdivision with 17 sacks in 2016: "A guy like him, he's got power and speed, and he's semi-experienced. He's got what it takes, but he's got to prove it on special teams as well."
On Mario Addison: "He's a cool, laid-back kind of guy. All of his teammates like him. A cool guy, and very humble.
"I want to have a better season than I had the last two years, a better season. My main thing that last two seasons were knick-knack injuries. If I don't get a knick-knack injury, I can be that guy."