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Panthers ponder 3-4 possibilities


CHARLOTTE – With four starting-caliber linebackers on the roster in Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, James Anderson and Jon Beason are the Carolina Panthers considering mixing in a 3-4 scheme?

It's a question onlookers and fans have asked, and it's one defensive coordinator Sean McDermott addressed Tuesday when he appeared on the Panthers Pulse.

"That's a very good question," McDermott said. "When those four are healthy, there's a chance we'll experiment more with that. We've thrown a little bit of it out there, particularly on third down.

"Would we like to do more? Absolutely. How much of it? We'll see."

McDermott doesn't plan to overhaul the base 4-3 scheme that's been in place since he arrived in 2011, but he hopes to use some 3-4 looks in third down situations.

The reason? In addition to allowing four of the defense's better players to see the field at the same time, pressures out of a 3-4 scheme can be more varied and create more confusion for an offense.

"Let's face it, we're all creatures of habit, and offensive linemen are used to looking for jerseys with 90 on them," McDermott said. "When you can hide that fourth and fifth rusher, and those rushers come with a 50 number on, or a 40 number or 20 number at times with our pressure packages, that's where you create problems and confusion."

Carolina's linebacking foursome has impressive credentials. Kuechly led the NFL in tackles as a rookie. Davis, in his first full season since 2008, finished second on the team with 118 tackles in 2012. Anderson was the team's single-season record holder for tackles before Kuechly broke the record. And Beason, who has missed most of the last two seasons with injuries, is a three-time Pro Bowler.

"I don't know that there's a better linebacking corps on paper than what we have in Carolina," McDermott said. "Now, we've got to get all of those guys on the field, and a lot happens between now and then in terms of health."

Health has been an issue for Beason, who is recovering from knee and shoulder surgery this offseason. And until the 2012 campaign, staying healthy was a recurring issue for Davis, who tore his right anterior cruciate ligament three times in less than two years.

With that in mind, the depth at linebacker can come in handy if an injury were to arise. But when all four are available, which they are expected to be at the start of the 2013 season, the linebackers become an obvious strength that McDermott and his staff plan on utilizing to the fullest.

"I believe, philosophically, you build around the strength of your defense," McDermott said. "So whatever our roster looks like on opening day, that's how we're going to play. We're going to play to our strengths and try to avoid our weaknesses."

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