Three weeks ago, Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera approached linebacker James Anderson about taking a leadership role.
After placing team captains, Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, on season-ending injured reserve, Rivera wanted someone to fill the leadership void at the linebacker position. But he wanted a player who had the ability to play well, help the younger players and make the defensive calls.
ICONAnderson has developed into a leader in Carolina after injuries to Beason and Davis.
Since his coaches’ request, Anderson, 28, has taken his new responsibility and done whatever possible to accomplish it. However, he believes he has to do more than just make calls and ensure players are in their right spots.
“You lead by example,” Anderson said. “Just trying to be in the right spot and make sure all the guys are on the same page communication wise.”
That communication will be important today at the Georgia Dome against the Atlanta Falcons (2-3). Anderson showed his ability to lead, call plays and perform at a high level in the Panthers’ 30-27 loss to the New Orleans Saints. He finished with 10 tackles (5 solo).
Asked about one possession in which he checked three times against Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Anderson said he wasn’t going to allow the defense to be compromised.
“Ya’ll saw that,” he said about his duel with Brees. “It is a little back and forth. He makes checks. We make checks. We are trying to stay one step ahead of each other. It was good to see, and it was good for our defense. He made three (checks). I made three (checks). That was something we put in for our defense, so we can stay ahead of what they were doing.”
Anderson, a six-year pro, said he was prepared for competitors like Brees and to handle being a leader because of advice from former teammates and playing in a lot of games. Anderson, who had a breakout season last year and signed a five-year, $22 million deal after the lockout, has played every linebacker position during his NFL career. He believes playing different linebacker positions and special teams built his confidence.
And he said that experience helped prepare him for the loss of Beason and Davis. He said what happen to Beason and Davis were unfortunate injuries, but it is part of football. The next man has to step up and sometimes play a role that wasn’t originally intended for him, Anderson added.
“You have to understand you have to do you,” he said. “You can’t put extra pressure on yourself, and you start thinking. That is when I have my bad games when I’m thinking and putting pressure on myself. This is a game of football. We all grew up doing it. We all know how to do it, so just go out there and play.”
Anderson also points out there were veterans who showed him the way. He credits Dan Morgan, Mushin Muhammad, Mike Minter, Na’il Diggs and Chris Draft for enhancing his development and maturity as a player.
Thus, Anderson knows part of his job is helping improve a run defense that is ranked 27th in the NFL. He said the front seven have to get consistently in their gaps and avoid trying to do too much because that causes players to miss assignments.
Anderson said the Panthers can’t lose sight of what they have done well too. He said the defense has to build off successful elements like the pass defense and how successfully it has pressured the quarterback.
And he has even grabbed younger players for film sessions. Defensive tackle Andre Neblett was one of those players a couple of weeks ago. Neblett said he wasn’t surprised when Anderson told him to come watch film.
In the film sessions with Anderson, Neblett said he learned small aspects of different offenses that helped him. The second-year defensive linemen said he admires Anderson’s competiveness and experience.
“Off the bat, James is already a smart guy, and he plays hard, so automatically those are some of the characteristic a leader has to have,” Neblett said. “As far as comparing last year to this year, he is more vocal out on the field. He is definitely stepping up there, and he is bringing all the other linebackers with him. He is in the film room consistently, and he is always bringing somebody with him. That is what changed about James this year from last year.”
Despite praising Anderson, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said it hasn’t been an easy transition.
He noted Anderson is still adjusting to his new role, and the coaching staff has to continue to support him. Anderson isn’t a vocal guy, and it is difficult running a defense for the first time, Rivera said.
“He is a veteran player who has had success playing in this league and as you watch the things that he does as far as knowing the checks and putting himself in the proper position,” Rivera said. “You know he can help guys. That is probably one of the biggest things he can do. He is a bright player.”
Greg Jones covers the Panthers for Examiner.com
Follow Greg on Twitter: @gjjones_sport
- Carolina Panthers
- Jon Beason