The third-year defensive end has been a pleasant surprise for the Carolina Panthers on a defensive line that has continued to try and find a replacement for Greg Hardy. Now Alexander is not on the same level as Hardy but he certainly could be in line for a breakout season in this defense.
The one thing I will be watching for on Friday night is how Alexander does against the run. The Panthers defense struggled last year against the run dropping to 112 yards per game in 2014 from 86.9 yards in 2013. One of the reason was the Panthers didn’t have a great defensive end to stop the run like Hardy.
The Bills are expected to have an excellent run game with offensive coordinator Greg Roman taking over the offense after running the 49ers offense last year. Alexander is going to have his hands full trying to control LeSean McCoy and the rest of their running backs. If he can be a force disrupting the run game, this defense is going to be very good.
The Panthers could be cautious with how much time they give their first round pick because of a hamstring injury he has battled in training camp. They are going to have to find a balance though because Thompson needs as much playing time as possible as he transitions to outside linebacker full time.
Right now, veteran A.J. Klein is ahead of him on the depth chart but if Thompson can show a strong understanding of the position, he should pass him before the start of the season. The rookie linebacker has incredible physical skills and is one of the fastest linebackers on the field. It is going to be interesting to see how that speed translates to the NFL game and if he can have an impact against the Bills.
Charles Tillman joined the Panthers this offseason after spending 12 years with the Chicago Bears. He certainly knows this defense after spending the early part of his career playing for Ron Rivera, who was the defensive coordinator at the time.
The concern with Tillman is not whether or not he knows the system but rather he can still play the position or not. The 34 year old has only played in 10 games the past two seasons due to two season ending tricep injuries. The second happened last year in the second week of the season and Friday will be the first time in 11 months Tillman has played in a game.
This will raise the question of how rusty Tillman is and this will be a great test of whether or not he still can run with some of the faster wide receivers in the game. The Bills offense could have the fastest wide receiver group collectively with Sammy Watkins, Percy Harvin and Marquise Goodwin, who competed in the 2012 Olympics.
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