COMMENTARY | Defense wins championships, right? If that's the case, the Carolina Panthers may be inching closer and closer to getting there. Everyone remembers how solid this defense was back in the 2000's, but now it's seemed to have fallen apart.
With the departure of Julius Peppers, Kris Jenkins, and Mike Rucker awhile back, this defensive line has been looking to find its face. Now with Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy and a pair of strong rookie defensive tackles, the line should have success. The linebackers, when healthy, may just be the best linebacking corps in the league. The biggest question mark for this Carolina Panthers' team is the secondary. Now without Chris Gamble, the franchise's leader in interceptions, this group of defensive backs has something to prove.
Last season, the Panthers finished 13th in pass defense in the league. Despite a middle of the road pass defense, the Panthers only had six teams finish with fewer interceptions in 2012. Luke Kuechly, Charles Godfrey, and Captain Munnerlyn each had two interceptions to lead the team. Munnerylyn, though, scored on both of his interceptions, including a 74-yard return.
Munneryln will now have to step up and be the full-time number one guy at corner with Gamble's retirement. Munnerlyn is a guy who brings consistency to the table. Not only that but he's durable. He's played in at least 14 games in all four seasons with Carolina. If you know anything about this defense, you'll know that staying healthy is one of the biggest things anyone can do.
Playing opposite of Munnerlyn will be a new face in 2013. Veteran corner Drayton Florence was signed this past offseason, and fans are excited about it. Florence has 18 career interceptions and has carried the label of "ball hawk" with him to Carolina. Despite breaking his arm in Week 2 last season, Florence still played in eight games and recorded an interception. Some question his durability but Carolina added another new face just after Florence to help out with that.
DJ Moore, who came as a free agent signing this offseason, is a younger player, going into his fifth season in the NFL. Despite only making three official starts, Moore has 10 career interceptions, all coming within the last three seasons. After his rookie season, Moore played an important role in the Chicago Bears' defense, playing in at least 13 games each season for the past three years. While Moore is a solid tackler at corner, he'll be on the field in most passing situations and be looking to take passes the other way for Carolina.
Behind those three guys are a couple of young players. Josh Norman, who is going into his second season in the NFL, finished third on the Panthers defense with 73 tackles last season. He also recorded an interception. Josh Thomas can also provide some support off of the bench in the secondary.
Now on to the safeties. The only player that really stands out above the crowd from last season is Charles Godfrey. Godfrey has been nothing short of consistent for the Panthers over the past five seasons. He's registered at least 60 tackles and an interception during every season for the Carolina except for one.
On the other side at strong safety, the Panthers have brought in Mike Mitchell from the Oakland Raiders to replace Sherrod Martin. Mitchell is already the favorite to win the starting job. Mitchell is another guy who has been durable over his career, playing in all 16 games except for one season in which he appeared in 13 games. Even though Mitchell only has nine career starts, he has more field time than every safety on the roster except for Godfrey and Haruki Nakamura.
This Panthers defense is starting to put the pieces together. They may not have all of the huge names in football, but with the pieces they've added this offseason, it looks as if the Panthers are where they need to be.
Matt is a graduate of WVU. He covers the Washington Wild Things and Division II sports for Pittsburgh Sporting News, WVU football for Ohio Valley Athletics, and anything WVU for Pros Report. You can follow him on Twitter @Welch1048.
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