Is Panthers' Ealy Ready to Breakout in 2015?

Last year, the Carolina Panthers selected defensive end Kony Ealy in the second round. The season started slow for the rookie out of Missouri but he finished very well. Could the last few weeks of 2014 be a sign of big things to come for Ealy in 2015?

When the Carolina Panthers selected defensive end Kony Ealy in the second round, the team saw him as one more piece to a rotation that was led by Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy. The plan changed early in the season with Hardy being placed on Commissioner Exempt list after Week 2 and Ealy saw his role increased in this defense.

At times, especially early in the season, Ealy did not look ready for the opportunity and seemed overmatched. The first 12 games of Ealy’s rookie season he had only nine total tackles, five QB hits and one sack.

However, something clicked prior to the Panthers’ Week 15 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and started a stretch of three sacks over the final three games of the regular season. The first sack Ealy lined up on the inside and was able to blow past Doug Martin to get the strip sack on Josh McCown.

The next week against the Cleveland Browns, Ealy lined up against Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas and was able to beat him around the corner to bring down Brian Hoyer. This certainly could have been the most impressive sack because of the caliber of player he was able to beat.

Then in the final week of the regular season, Ealy lined up across from the Atlanta Falcons right tackle. On this play the right tackle took Dwan Edwards with the thought that the Falcons’ running back would pick up Ealy. This is a matchup that Ealy should, and did win, as the running back couldn’t get a solid block on him and Matt Ryan went down for the sack.

The one thing that was great to see over these final weeks was not only the willingness to move Ealy around on the field by the coaching staff, but that he was productive from all these positions.

This is going to be much tougher for teams to gameplan for Ealy if he is lining up at different spots.It also allows defensive coordinator Sean McDormett to put him in favorable matchups. He can line up on either end of the line and even slide inside on passing downs. At defensive tackle, he has the quickness and power to collapse the pocket and force quarterbacks to try to make a throw on the run.

The strong finish from last year and the fact he can play at a number of different spots along the defensive line are all positive signs to a breakout season in 2015 for Kony Ealy.

All .gifs from NFL Game Rewind

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