Three Questions: Defensive Line

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This unit received a huge boost when legendary defensive end Julius Peppers decided to return for an 18th NFL season after posting 11 sacks in 2017.

But one of Peppers' good buddies won't be around. For the first time in 11 years, the Panthers defensive line will not feature defensive end Charles Johnson. The 32-year-old is a free agent who appears ready to retire.

Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is another notable departure. Carolina's first-round pick in 2013 signed with the Bills in free agency, but the Panthers quickly plugged that hole by signing Pro Bowler Dontari Poe, a first-round pick of the Chiefs in 2012.

1) What will Poe bring to the table?

Lotulelei's contributions were a big part of Carolina's success on defense, but Poe could very well prove to be an upgrade at the position. The 6-foot-3, 346-pounder has the size to eat up blockers, but he also has the quickness to consistently disrupt the passer. Poe and fellow defensive tackle Kawann Short are about as good as it gets when it comes to interior duos in the NFL.

View photos of the defensive line in action during the 2017 season.

2) Is there enough depth at defensive end?

Peppers and Mario Addison each recorded 11 sacks last season. Wes Horton – reliable but still largely unheralded – posted 5.5 sacks. No other defensive end on the roster has recorded a sack.

Daeshon Hall is looking to make up for lost time after spending almost all of his rookie year on injured reserve. Undrafted addition Bryan Cox Jr. showed flashes a year ago. And Marquise Haynes was selected in the fourth round thanks to his explosive pass rush potential.

Bottom line: It's a young, inexperienced group behind the starters, but defensive coordinator Eric Washington is known for getting the most out his D-linemen.

3) Will Vernon Butler become more of a factor?

Carolina's first-round pick in 2016 knows it's time to make an impact. Injuries have slowed him, and through two seasons he's recorded 26 tackles and 1.5 sacks (zero sacks in 2017). Butler, who will rotate in behind Short and Poe, has all the tools. Coaches have been encouraged by his work ethic. Now it's all about the production.

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