The Carolina Panthers have invested a great deal into their defensive line but the investment that has paid the highest dividends was when they drafted Kawann Short in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft. The defensive tackle from Purdue University was actually the second tackle the team drafted that year, using their first round pick on Star Lotulelei.
He didn't have immediate success in the NFL though as he only had 38 solo tackles, five sacks, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in his first two seasons. However, something clicked this year for him and he finished with 36 solo tackles, 11 sacks, three forced fumble and two fumble recovers. He almost matched his career totals in 16 games this year and earned his first Pro Bowl nomination.
On Tuesday, Jared Allen was asked about his teammate and his performance hasn't gone unnoticed by the veteran:
“You know Kawann is doing a great job. As a defensive end, defensive tackles are like my best friend. I say the best thing for him is that he is athletic and he has all those tangible things, but one of his best qualities is how he recognizes blocks at a young age. I mean to have that kind of block reaction and understanding run/pass so that he can use his attributes to defeat the opposite player faster, I think that is the biggest thing that I have enjoyed watching on film.”
This ability to recognize the block and diagnose the play has allowed Short to have the type of season he is having. However, this ability extends beyond him and along the entire defensive line. Allen went on to talk about the kind of impact Short has on him as a defensive end, when he said: “It’s huge. I take it back when I had Kevin Williams in the middle too. It makes your job a little freer off the edge knowing that guys are going to step up rushing the middle."
The Panthers' defensive tackle could be a key component to slowing down Peyton Manning. The Broncos' quarterback doesn't have much mobility but is shifty in the pocket. If Short is able to bring pressure up the middle, it won't allow Manning to step up and avoid the pass rush off the edge. This will also not allow Manning to step into his throw and really cut down on the power he can put behind his throws.
The Panthers' defense has done an excellent job of getting after quarterbacks this postseason with eight sacks in two games and Short accounting for two of them. Meanwhile, the Broncos' finished the year 13th in the league in allowing sacks, giving up 39. If the defense can put pressure on Manning, it will make their day easier but the pass rush starts with their Pro Bowl defensive tackle.