Panthers looking for quickness along the line

In an effort to beef up his team's pass rush, coach John Fox is not only changing up personnel on the defensive line but also changing the scheme for getting to the quarterback. A year ago, the Panthers pass rush was so futile they flirted with setting the NFL record for fewest sacks in a season.

They avoided that embarrassing scenario with a late push, finishing with 23, but the inability to get to the quarterback was a major area of concern for Fox heading into the offseason.

"We had to do things to get a better pass rush," Fox said recently at minicamp. "Those two big guys (Kris Jenkins and Maake Kemoeatu) in there are really good on the run, but you still need some speed and quickness to rush the passer. So we worked in a little different approach there with at least one of the defensive tackles and we'll see how that works out."

While the focus last weekend was Julius Peppers' move from left end to right end, in reality the biggest change could be what they're doing schematically inside with the smaller, but faster Damione Lewis taking over for Jenkins, who was dealt to the New York Jets.

"Stepping in behind Kris is a whole different deal. He's the best in the league at what he does, there's no doubt about it," Lewis said. "The one thing I bring is quickness and speed and I think we're moving in that direction with our defense. We'll have Maake playing more over the nose and I will be in three technique where I can get upfield and be more of a penetrator."

Basically what that means is Kemoeatu, who weighs in at about 340 pounds, will be playing on the outside edge of the center and taking up double-team blocks.

Lewis will play on the outside edge of the guard, penetrate the B-gap and get upfield to disrupt plays. Lewis led the team in sacks last season with three.

"Maake will be hosting those double teams. He's 340 right now and he can take on those big guys," Lewis said.

He's more equipped to do that than Lewis, who plays at about 305 pounds, about 35 less than Jenkins.

The new scheme also means more responsibility for Carolina's linebackers.

"Basically we are playing more penetration stuff," Lewis said. "We had bigger body guys at tackle we did a lot of stuff up the middle. Jenks and Maake, they are going to take up two blocks apiece and we kind of use those guys to stuff up the middle and allow our linebackers to run a lot more. Now our linebackers have a little have a little bit more responsibility. We're more gap-oriented than we were last year."

It's a new scheme for Kemoeatu, which will mean extra time in the film room.

But Lewis, a former first-round draft pick, has played in this type of scheme before when he was with the St. Louis Rams. It also seems to play to the strengths of recent free-agent pickups Darwin Walker and Ian Scott, who both have been in the single-gap type defense in the past.

"Personally, I like it," Lewis said. "For me it's easy because I have one gap to hit and I'm gone."

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