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Carolina Panthers

Rivera: 3-4 defense an option


CHARLOTTE – Last season, the Panthers experimented with a 3-4 defensive alignment for a handful of plays.

This year, the Panthers hope the 3-4 can become a handful for opposing offenses.

"When teams have to prepare for more than one type of defense, that helps. It's the same thing as how we want defenses preparing for an offense that's multi-faceted," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said Tuesday after the second day of a three-day camp leading into training camp.

"The biggest thing is that we have some guys that have some ability to play linebacker and defensive end for us, and we've got to look at utilizing their talents and their abilities. That may mean us playing a little bit of 3-4. We've got to be flexible and keep our options open."

The Panthers still plan to operate out of a 4-3 base, but Rivera wants to take full advantage of the flexibility among his personnel along the front seven.

Defensive ends Antwan Applewhite and Jyles Tucker played outside linebacker in a 3-4 during Rivera's tenure as defensive coordinator with the San Diego Chargers, and Eric Norwood played both spots in college. Defensive end Charles Johnson lined up at defensive tackle during the 3-4 experiments last season, and defensive end Greg Hardy is athletic enough to play linebacker in a 3-4.

The Panthers also have four linebackers capable of playing every down with the addition of first-round draft pick Luke Kuechly. However, 3-4 alignments out of a 4-3 base are at least as likely to feature a fourth defensive lineman at outside linebacker as they are four traditional linebackers.

Making such flexibility more possible in 2012 is that the Panthers have enjoyed plenty of rehab time and classroom time this offseason.

"The thing that helps us is that our middle is back," Rivera said. "We lose Ron Edwards, who understands playing the nose in the 3-4. We lose our two primary inside backers (Jon Beason and Thomas Davis). Getting them all back helps, plus having Organized Team Activities and minicamps has given us more of an opportunity to prepare."

NEBLETT ADDRESSES SUSPENSION: Defensive tackle Andre Neblett, speaking publicly for the first time since the NFL suspended him for the first four games of the regular season for violation of the league's policy of performance-enhacnign substances, expressed his disappointment.

Neblett said he hurt his team and his own cause by using an over-the-counter dietary supplement for weight control that contained a substance he didn't realize was on the NFL's banned list. He said he unsuccessfully appealed the suspension.

"I should have checked with my trainer," Neblett said. "I'm extremely disappointed, and so is my family. I'm costing a team that can potentially make it to the playoffs four games, and I can be a guy that can help."

Neblett bolstered the middle of the defense late last season, helping the Panthers yield just 95.6 rushing yards per game over his final five games before missing the season finale with a concussion.

Neblett had shoulder surgery during the offseason but appeared poised to pick up where he left off. He'll participate in training camp and will be evaluated just like everyone else according to Rivera, but his task is now taller.

"It's definitely going to make it harder," Neblett said. "I'm not going to be there for four games, so somebody is going to be able to step up and take that spot, just as I did. It's going to be some work getting back."


CAUTIOUS APPROACH: Wide receiver David Gettis, coming off a torn anterior ligament that cost him the 2011 season and recovering from a recent hamstring injury, has been placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list as a precautionary move heading into training camp.

Gettis can be removed from the PUP list at any time and begin practicing, but he couldn't have practiced at training camp and then be added to the PUP list.

"We can be patient with him," Rivera said. "And bringing Louis Murphy in (via a trade on Monday) helps that as well. He adds competition, but he also takes a little pressure off David. As long as things continue going well and he's rehabbing well, we'll be fine."

Though Gettis could well come off the PUP early in training camp and participate in practice, the move keeps the option open of leaving Gettis on the PUP for the start of the regular season if he suffers a setback in his recovery.

If Gettis didn't begin training camp on the PUP and then didn't recover in time for the start of the regular season, the Panthers would have to either place him on injured reserve – effectively ending his season - or have him take up a spot on the 53-man roster until healthy.

Once the season starts, a player on PUP doesn't count against the 53-man limit but can return to the team as early as Week 7.

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