Skip to main content

Yetur Gross-Matos making plays at outside linebacker, and he wants more

Yetur Gross-Matos

CHARLOTTE – Yetur Gross-Matos had the inevitable growing pains while switching to Ejiro Evero's 3-4 base defense.

Gross-Matos was a traditional defensive end converting to outside linebacker, and Evero was quick to mention how much his mechanics had to change in the new scheme.

But Gross-Matos was quick to learn.

Kirk Cousins, Yetur Gross-Matos, Brian Burns

"That's not unnatural," Evero said when asked if the defense initially seemed foreign to Gross-Matos. "He's never played standing up. He's always played with his hands down, so that's not unnatural at all for that to happen.

"But where I've been really pleased with him is that he's worked through it. He never got down about it. He was upbeat; he was positive. And he knew that if he worked (and) prepared that it would eventually come around. And it has."

And it's true. After playing a scant four defensive snaps in the season opener at Atlanta, Gross-Matos saw his time tick up in the last three games.

Recording a sack against Kirk Cousins in the third quarter last week against Minnesota extended his three-game streak with at least half a sack, the longest such streak of his career.

"I'm just not really focusing on stats," Gross-Matos said. "(I'm) just trying to be dominant. Like every time I go out there, I want to have an impact on the game. So that's just where I'm at. And I want to keep it going all year."

Gross-Matos had been gradually finding more consistent success as a defensive end throughout his first three seasons in the NFL, totaling 8.5 sacks across those seasons with a league-leading four fumble recoveries in 2022.

Yetur Gross-Matos, Brian Burns

Brian Burns, the Panthers' star pass-rusher and a veteran Gross-Matos said he leans on, knew the 2020 second-round pick would eventually make the jump.

"Yetur always had it; like, there's no surprise to me that he's rushing well," Burns said. "In prior years, he's been put in difficult positions to have a lot of sack success. … But now, I think he's back into his true position of being on the edge. He's able to use his strength and athleticism."

Gross-Matos and nickel cornerback Jeremy Chinn are linked by their draft class, friendship, and sharing an exact birthday (Feb. 26, 1998).

They're also linked by the fact they've played under three different coordinators across four seasons here, and Chinn said he's seen Gross-Matos grow comfortable and impact multiple games as he embraced a new role under Evero.

"It's been great to see," Chinn said of Gross-Matos' early production. "It's been super encouraging, his development and showing up every single day to work. … We came in together, so just seeing his growth, it's been awesome."

Evero said he has seen that commitment from Gross-Matos in multiple facets – from the on-field performance to game-week studying.

"He's been committed since day one," Evero said. "Since we've been with him, it's been about his work, playing on the edge, playing inside. He knew he was going to have multiple roles to do that in. And he's been committed to being better.

"And I know he's doing it in every phase of his life, in the classroom, in the weight room, on the field. I've just seen a great commitment from the young man, since day one, to be the best version of himself. And now he's seeing the fruits of that labor.

Yetur Gross-Matos, Amaré Barno, Justin Houston, Brian Burns

Gross-Matos won't let himself become complacent or too proud; he said he is focused on helping the Panthers earn their first win amid an 0-4 start.

But he is grateful for the support of his coaches, Burns, Chinn, and veteran outside linebacker Justin Houston, who Gross-Matos said has helped him learn how to set himself up for "longevity." (Houston is in his 13th year of the league.)

"Just shout out to my teammates for pushing me and being on me and the coaches for putting me in a winning position," Gross-Matos said. "Just giving me an opportunity to make plays, giving me an opportunity to rush one-on-one. At that point, it's just on me to make a play. …

"When I get out there, I want them to feel me. I want to make an impact on this team. I want to contribute to winning."

Gross-Matos' snap count percentages have grown since Week 1 – from 8 percent, 55 percent, 56 percent, to 69 percent.

Evero said he has been earning those snaps since training camp, even though the rotation wasn't perfected in Week 1 when Gross-Matos played little against Atlanta.

They're pleased with how Gross-Matos has developed from the beginning, and he's far from satisfied four weeks into the season.

"I (have) high standards," Gross-Matos said. "We talked about raising the floor. I'm all about that. I want to be great. So I don't feel like I'm anywhere close to as good as I can be."

View photos from the Panthers' practice on Thursday.

Related Content