The Carolina Panthers were back on the practice field Monday for the first time since their preseason victory over the Buffalo Bills. They were back on the field with a few new changes at the defensive end position.
The Panthers have been missing their top pass rusher, Charles Johnson, for about the past week while he dealt with a calf injury. He was able to get back on the field Monday but only for a limited time before he felt his calf start to feel sore, according to Coach Ron Rivera.
So with Johnson sitting out of practice, The Charlotte Observers’ Tom Sorensen tweeted the team had second-year player Kony Ealy and Rakim Cox playing defensive end with the starting defense. Cox was a big part of helping seal the Panthers victory as he was regularly getting pressure on the Bills quarterbacks in the fourth quarter.
Cox has had a long road to the NFL and with a strong performance the NFL Veteran Combine he earned a shot with the Chicago Bears. Bryan Strickland of Panthers.com wrote that Cox had to take out a loan to help him actually attend the Combine in February. After the Bears passed on the defensive end, the Panthers came calling and he certainly is making the most of his opportunity.
According to Pro Football Focus, he finished the game with one sack, one QB hit, and one QB hurry. The coaching staff took notice and Rivera mentioned his play on Friday as a reason for the bump up to the first team.
Meanwhile the two players who started the game for the Panthers at defensive end, Ealy and Frank Alexander, had very little impact against the Bills. These two played over 30 snaps and registered only a combined three QB hurries and struggled to keep Tyrod Taylor contained in the pocket.
While Ealy stayed with the first team defense on Monday, Alexander spent the entire practice with the third team. Coach Rivera was asked if this was a punishment and he repeatedly said no it wasn’t.
However it was clear that he was not impressed with his performance on Friday night. Ealy could have been right there with Alexander but the injury to Johnson probably changed things. This injury, along with injuries to the starting defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, has not made it easy for the coaching staff to evaluate who the best man for the job is.
It is going to be interesting to how the rotation at defensive end plays out, especially with the Miami Dolphins joint practices at the end of the week and the preseason game Saturday night.
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