Panthers' Final Report Card: Defensive Line

The Carolina Panthers defensive line had to make some drastic changes as the season went on, especially with Greg Hardy suspended for a majority of the season. These are the grades for the key players on the defensive line.

Charles Johnson

2014 Stats: 41 total tackles, 8.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 2 passes defended

Best Game: Week 7 at Green Bay

Notes: The season started off very slow for the eight-year veteran with only three total tackles through the first four weeks of the season. However, Johnson came alive after that and had 8.5 sacks over the final 12 games of the season. He continued that strong play right into the playoffs with two sacks against the Cardinals in the Wild Card Round. The Panthers defense certainly suffered without Greg Hardy on the field this year but Johnson did his best to make up for that lost production.

Final Grade: A-

 

Kony Ealy

2014 Stats: 12 total tackles, 4 sacks, 1 forced fumble

Best Game: Week 15 versus Tampa Bay

Notes: The second round rookie was not expected to contribute as much as he did in his first year when he was drafted. Ealy has all the physical tools to excel as a pass-rusher but still needed time to develop. The thought process was he could be brought along slowly while Johnson and Hardy handled most of the pass rushing duties. Well once Hardy was suspended those plans changed and Ealy saw his role expand. It took him most of the season to get to a level that he could contribute to this defense with only one sack through the first 12 games of the season. The final three weeks though he came alive and started getting after the quarterback, with a sack in each one of those games. This is one player who finished the year off on a high note and hopefully can carry that into 2015.

Final Grade: C-

 

Star Lotulelei

2014 Stats: 25 total tackles, 2 sacks, 1 pass defended

Best Game: Week 17 at Atlanta

Notes: After an impressive rookie year, Star Lotulelei fell into the sophomore slump. The big defensive tackle struggled for most of the year and had to battle injuries before finishing the regular season on a high note. He had a breakout game the final game of the regular season with seven tackles and two sacks. Unfortunately, he had more bad luck in the playoffs when he broke a bone in his foot during practice before the Seattle Seahawks game. A healthy Lotulelei for a full 16-game season will make a huge difference on this defense in 2015.

Final Grade: C+

 

Dwan Edwards

2014 Stats: 40 total tackles, 4 sacks, 1 interception, 2 passes defended

Best Game: Week 2 versus Detroit

Notes: Along with Lotulelei and Short, Dwan Edwards was a key player in playing tough defense in the middle of the Panthers’ line. Edwards’ best game was back in Week 2 when he had 1.5 sacks and six total tackles but his play of the year came against the Saints in Week 9. That was when he made a diving interception off a Drew Brees’ pass that was deflected by the Panthers’ secondary.

Final Grade: C+

 

Kawann Short

2014 Stats: 40 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, 2 passes defended

Best Game: Week 14 at New Orleans

Notes: The Panthers other second-year defensive tackle, Kawann Short, certainly did not fall into the sophomore slump and improved from his rookie season. He was very steady for most of the year but finished the year very strong. He had 2.5 sacks over the final four games of the regular season, added another sack against the Cardinals in the playoff. His best game though may have been against Seattle, where he was constantly getting penetration in the backfield and was a disruptive force.

Final Grade: B+

 

Wes Horton

2014 Stats: 26 total tackles, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 pass defended

Best Game: Week 5 versus Chicago

Notes: Similar to Ealy, Horton saw an increase in playing time thanks to the absence of Greg Hardy in 2014. The second-year defensive end did a much better job against the run than he did rushing the quarterback. Pro Football Focus gave him a cumulative grade of 1.1 for the season against the run but a -12 against the pass.

Final Grade: C

 

Mario Addison

2014 Stats: 23 total tackles, 6.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble

Best Game: Week 2 versus Detroit

Notes: Mario Addison started the year off with a bang with four sacks over a three week period from Week 2 to Week 4. The sack total slowed down after that though with only 2.5 sacks the rest of the regular season. The fact that Horton, Addison and Ealy all have four or less years in the NFL gives this group a lot of potential and room to grow the next couple of seasons.

Final Grade: C


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