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Carolina Panthers: Can Charles Johnson Rebound in 2016?

Defensive end Charles Johnson is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career last year. Can he rebound in 2016? Brandon Croce takes a closer look at the veteran pass rusher and what he will need to do to bounce back this season.

Charles Johnson has been a cornerstone for the Carolina Panthers for nearly a decade after the team drafted him in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft. The former Georgia Bulldog really developed into a feared pass rusher over a five-year period from 2010 to 2014 when he averaged over 10 sacks per season.

Season

Games

Total Tackles

Sacks

Forced Fumbles

2007

3

2

0

0

2008

16

25

6.0

1

2009

13

25

4.0

2

2010

16

62

11.5

1

2011

15

40

9.0

1

2012

16

41

12.5

7

2013

14

31

11.0

1

2014

16

41

8.5

3

2015

9

12

1.0

0

However, the player nicknamed "Big Money" after he signed a six-year, $76 million contract extension in 2011 struggled last year. He finished with career lows as a starter, with only one sack and 12 tackles in the regular season which was due in part to missing seven games. He was placed on injured reserve due to a hamstring injury.

During the offseason, the Panthers in a cost cutting move decided to release Johnson, which freed up $11 million in cap space. However, Johnson decided to return to the Panthers on a one-year deal worth $3 million.

The fact that it is a one-year deal makes the upcoming season important for the defensive end as he is playing for his next contract after the upcoming season. If he wants to maximize his negotiating position in the offseason, these are three things that Johnson will need to do this season.

Build Off Playoff Run From Last Year

There is no debating that Johnson had his worst regular season of his career as a starter last year. However, he really stepped up during the Panthers' playoff run with a sack in every playoff game, including Super Bowl 50. He also finished with two forced fumbles during their playoff run.

The veteran defensive end looked healthier during the playoffs for the Panthers and it clearly showed by the stats he was putting up. He will need to build off this as he enters this important season.

Stay Healthy During Training Camp

The past two years Johnson has suffered injuries during training camp that have not allowed him to get off to a fast start to the seasons. In 2014, Johnson suffered a hamstring injury and he was forced to miss all but one preseason game. He then went on to record only three tackles and no sacks in the first four games of that season.

This past year, Johnson had to deal with a calf strain as well as a trapezius injury and once again got off to a slow start with only five tackles and one sack in the first three games of the year. He then was placed on injured reserve before Week 4 and didn't return until Thanksgiving Day against the Dallas Cowboys.

If Johnson is able to stay healthy during training camp, he can knock off the rust and get into game shape. This will give him the best chance to start the year strong and continue that momentum as the season progresses.

Take Advantage of Favorable Matchups

A strong case could be made that this is the best defensive line Johnson has played on with Kawann ShortStar Lotulelei and an emerging Kony Ealy. The talent that is around Johnson means that he may get more favorable, one-on-one matchups this season due to offensive lines focusing on the other players.

If Johnson is able to take advantage of these matchups, there is no question that he should be able to bounce back and get close to that 10+ sack average he had prior to 2015.

*Contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.com

Twitter @BrandonCroce

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