Destination: Defensive Line

Carolina is the land of opportunity for defensive linemen. A handful of young veterans bounced around the league before joining the Panthers and now find themselves pursuing meaningful minutes for the first time in their careers.

Dominant teams -- and units -- are typically built through the draft. The Panthers are counting on their defensive line being an exception to that rule.

Just look at how some of these players arrived in Carolina:

--Louis Leonard, projected as a starting defensive tackle, began his career in '07 as an undrafted free agent with the San Diego Chargers. He moved on to the St. Louis Rams and Cleveland Browns before Carolina shipped off a low-round draft pick to land him in a trade in 2009.

--Eric Moore, a camp standout who recorded two sacks against the New York Jets, has almost as many teams on his résumé (four) as he has years of experience (five). He was signed by the Panthers as an injury fill-in late last season; now, he's one of the reasons the competition on the line has been so healthy.

--Three other players with less than five years experience began their careers elsewhere: Tank Tyler (Kansas City Chiefs), Ed Johnson (Indianapolis Colts) and Derek Landri (Jacksonville Jaguars).

DE Eric Moore
Scott Cunningham/Getty
The challenge for defensive line coach Brian Baker is to take this hodgepodge of talent and mold it into a productive unit.

Carolina's defensive line is essentially composed of two types of players: 1) journeymen who were deemed expendable by their previous teams; and 2) recent draft selections who have yet to prove themselves in the Big Leagues.

It doesn't sound like an ideal mix, but so far this preseason, Baker has made it work. Through two weeks of preseason play, Carolina's defense has allowed a league-low 2.6 yards per play. That's nearly a full yard better than the next closest team and the D-line is a big reason for that dominance.

As for the concern about the Panthers' ability to replace Julius Peppers' pass-rushing presence? The team has 11 sacks through two preseason games, all of them by defensive linemen.

To be fair, this productivity isn't all the result of journeymen. Vets Charles Johnson, Everette Brown and Nick Hayden were all drafted by Carolina and all figure to play significant roles this season. Also, rookies Eric Norwood and Greg Hardy are likely to shoulder a sizable portion of the pass-rushing load.

But if the Panthers keep nine defensive linemen as expected, it's likely that more than half of those players will be playing for a franchise other than the one they entered the league with. These players bounced around the NFL waiting for an opportunity. Now that they have found one in Carolina, they are making the most of it.

What are your thoughts on the defensive line? Discuss inside the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and also a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports.

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