Through three games the Panthers have limited their opponents to 10 points per game, three yards per play and registered a league-high 18 sacks, including seven on Saturday night against the Tennessee Titans.
Preseason or not, those are impressive numbers.
It's been the one highlight for the Panthers in a preseason marred by inconsistent special teams play and a flailing passing game.
"It's not that I'm surprised because we see it in practice," cornerback Richard Marshall said of the team's defense. "We have guys that are fast, guys that run around and guys that play with good technique. So to me it's not a surprise. For the public it might be a surprise because a lot of people are probably thinking, 'Wow, we didn't know they had this.'"
Added linebacker Jon Beason: "I wouldn't say I'm surprised, but I would say I'm happy with the way we've played."
And why not?
On Saturday night, the Panthers limited the Titans to 50 yards on 24 plays in the first half and held Vince Young and Chris Johnson scoreless for three quarters en route to their first win of the preseason, 15-7 at Bank of America Stadium.
Led by defensive end Charles Johnson, the Panthers had seven sacks and forced two turnovers on defense and another on special teams on a great hit by Tyrell Sutton.
The only letdown for Carolina's defense came early in the fourth quarter when the second team allowed Kerry Collins to move the Titans 80 yards in five plays to take a 7-6 lead on a 35-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jared Cook. But kick returner Mike Goodson took the ensuing kickoff back 91 yards for a touchdown
. However, the first-team defense held the Titans to 70 total yards in three quarters and limited Chris Johnson, the NFL's leading rusher last year, to 10 yards on eight carries.
"The thing we preached this summer was playing fast and doing your assignment and not trying to do someone else's assignment," Marshall said. "And that's what we've been doing the last three weeks - everyone doing their own jobs to their best ability. Everything is working right now."
Especially the pass rush.
Carolina's 18 sacks have come from a variety of players, the latest being Johnson, probably the best of the team's pass rushers. Johnson got his first two sacks in the second quarter. Everette Brown and Eric Moore also had sacks.
"Charles is playing over the top along with all of the defensive ends," Beason said. "It's hard to single out one guy. He's doing his job. The good thing about it is he's being greedy out there, so to speak, every play is a new opportunity to go out there and make a play."
QB Jimmy Clausen
Clausen underwent surgery in early January to repair two torn ligaments in his toe, an injury the Notre Dame product sustained last Sept. 19 in a game against Michigan State.
"I still don't feel 100 percent right now," Clausen said Tuesday, one day after sitting out practice to rest the toe. "The doctor said it's probably going to be until after the season until I feel 100 percent. I'm going to have to play through some aches and pains until the season is over. That's just the nature of football."
To Clausen it's no big deal.
He played through pain most of last season after he was blitzed by Spartan linebacker Eric Gordon and ducked down on one knee. As Gordon came crashing in, Clausen's toe was bent back at an awkward angle.
He was later diagnosed with turf toe, but the injury proved to be more serious.
--The Panthers gave undrafted rookie Trent Guy a legitimate chance to win a job Saturday night as their all-purpose return man.
Guy returned all punts and kickoffs in the first half with mixed results.
The highlight was a 37-yard kickoff return and a 20-yard punt return that was called back because of a block in the back.
That came after two early mistakes in which Guy looked no more comfortable returning punts than his predecessors Armanti Edwards, Kenny Moore and Captain Munnerlyn.
On his second attempt of the game, Guy let a ball go instead of calling for a fair catch at the 13. The Titans downed the ball at the 2-yard line. He misjudged the next punt and it sailed over his head, but he got bailed out when the ball bounced into the end zone for a touchback. Guy punched the air in frustration after misreading the depth of the punt.
Guy finally got a rise out of the crowd when he returned a punt 20 yards, but that was called back because of a holding penalty.
Guy was given a chance after Edwards and Moore struggled in punt returns last week against the New York Jets. The Panthers turned the ball over three times on punt returns. The decision to go with Guy could signal the end of the Edwards return experiment -- at least for the time being.
--Jonathan Stewart went through warmups in full uniform, but then changed into street clothes minutes before the game.
He did not play and coach John Fox would not say why.
Wide receiver Steve Smith sat out Saturday night for the Panthers. With the next game meaningless, Smith might not play at all in the preseason, which would be just fine with him. Also out for the Panthers were defensive end Tyler Brayton and Hilee Taylor, offensive tackle Jeff Otah, linebacker Thomas Davis and defensive backs Aaron Francisco and C.J. Wilson.
TE Gary Barnidge
Mary Ann Chastain/Getty
When asked if he thinks the Panthers will throw more often in 2010, he simply said, "No."
He still views the running game as the strength of this team - and with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart running behind a veteran line, why not? -- but said making plays in the passing game when needed will be key to the team's overall success on offense.
"I would say this: we're always going to be about finding balance on offense," Davidson said. "The major push for is us when a defense is making us throw it, we have to be efficient when they are doing that to us."
That's something the Panthers struggled with last season.
Outside of Steve Smith, who has yet to play in the preseason, the Panthers had little else in the passing game in 2009 and quarterback Jake Delhomme struggled all year with turnovers, often trying to force the ball into Smith's hands.
--The Panthers are quietly expecting fourth-year defensive end Charles Johnson to have a breakout season.
And he's right there with them.
"You always want to have a double-digit sack total and make the Pro Bowl and stuff like that," Johnson said matter-of-factly when asked about his personal goals, "but you have to do the things on the field before you can (talk about it)."
Johnson, who had six sacks in 2008 and four last year, has worked almost exclusively with the first team at left defensive end throughout camp, opposite of where Julius Peppers played last season. This is his first stint as a full-time starter.
"I'm hoping it's going to be my year," Johnson said. "I'm going to keep working day by day. I feel good about myself. I feel good about my position. I feel good in a starting role. So hopefully it will be a good year for me."
--Defensive tackle Louis Leonard is waiting for a sense of normalcy to return to his life.
It's been a crazy 12 months for Leonard, who was fazed out of the Cleveland's defense last year when they switched to a 3-4 scheme, traded to Carolina and then placed on injured reserve after breaking his left ankle in Week 2 of the 2009 season.
And, about a month ago, just as he felt the ankle was getting better, Leonard tweaked his right knee forcing him to practice on a limited basis at training camp.
"I'm trying to rehab and learn how to play fast again," said Leonard, who's entering his fourth NFL season. "With any injury, you've always got it in the back of your head like, 'Ah, it's there.' It's a tough transition, and I'm just trying to keep my mind positive and keep going forward. I'm trying to forget about the injury and think about this season and go out there and make plays to help the team win.
"It's coming along. It's a process. After being out for so long and getting back on your feet you have to learn certain things. For one, you've got to learn how to deal with your body and putting your feet in the right place, and then you've got to learn how to deal with somebody else's body leaning up against you. I'm still trying to get through it now."
--Weak-side linebacker Jon Beason said when the regular season arrives he'll be the defensive player assigned to wear a microphone in his helmet and the one making the calls. However, Mike linebacker Dan Connor will be making the pre-snap checks.
"I think the guys are familiar with my voice in the huddle," Beason said. "It's good that Dan (Connor) gets to make the calls (in the preseason) because it makes him feel more like a (middle linebacker). Getting people lined up, making checks is something he can handle. He's a quiet guy by nature, so getting him talking more is good."
--Beason spent most of the offseason working out with DE Everette Brown and thinks the second-year player has the right approach to the game.
"Right away his demeanor, he had a focus about him (coming into the NFL)," Beason said. "Attention to detail, carried himself like a vet.
"It was unfortunate last year he had the ankle injury. I think it set him back in terms of how much progress he was able to make at the defensive end position. But when he was in he was very productive for us in terms of getting pressures and causing some interceptions down the field. He's put in the work and I expect him to come out and have a big season for us."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think our defense (has been) outstanding. We have to continue that. It's typical in the preseason, especially with some young guys stepping in on offense. I think defenses around the league are a little ahead of offenses." -- Panthers coach John Fox.
--WR Wallace Wright injured his shoulder on Saturday night. X-rays revealed no broken bones, but he will have an MRI on Sunday. His shoulder was pretty sore.
--RB Mike Goodson might have locked down the kickoff return job after taking one back 91 yards for a touchdown. Goodson had to be treated afterward for dehydration, but should be fine.
--QB Matt Moore has led 18 drives this preseason with none resulting in touchdowns.
--RB Tyrell Sutton injured his shoulder on Saturday night but should be fine.
--WR Trent Guy, who saw extensive playing time as a returner, re-injured his hamstring on Saturday night. However, Guy said he'll be fine.
--RB DeAngelo Williams was held to 13 yards on nine carries against the Titans.
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