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He’s new to Carolina Panthers, but this free-agent LB isn’t new to this defense

It usually takes time for free-agent acquisitions to feel comfortable in their new place of work.

There are reasons for this. There are new teammates to meet. There’s a new system to learn. A new coaching staff to impress. New trust to earn.

That is, unless you’re Josey Jewell.

Jewell, the inside linebacker the Panthers acquired in free agency this past offseason, finds himself occupying a sweet spot as the Panthers’ offseason program continues to unfold. He’s a veteran with credentials beyond Carolina, but he’s already earned the trust of defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero.

And, importantly, Evero has earned Jewell’s trust, too.

“I love coming back to this type of defense,” Jewell told reporters on Wednesday. “With Coach E and (inside linebackers coach) Pete Hansen and some other guys, it’s been awesome. Really, these last couple weeks have been great to get to know the guys, feel each other out a little bit, communicate and really be able to move and understand where people are going to be. It’s been very valuable for us.”

Carolina Panthers linebacker Josey Jewell picks up a ball during drills at the team’s voluntary minicamp practice on Tuesday, April 23, 2024.
Carolina Panthers linebacker Josey Jewell picks up a ball during drills at the team’s voluntary minicamp practice on Tuesday, April 23, 2024.

The fact that Jewell and Evero have each others’ trusts shouldn’t be a surprise. The two worked together in 2022, when Evero was the defensive coordinator in Denver — where Jewell spent his first six NFL seasons. During that 2022 season, Jewell put up a career year: 128 tackles (a career-high), 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions.

Part of that production resulted from the 3-4 system Evero employs, one that asks the two inside linebackers to do a lot — clog running lanes, drop in coverage, blitz the quarterback on occasion — with the two outside linebackers usually serving as central fixtures of the pass rush. You could see this philosophy play out in the year Frankie Luvu had in 2023. Luvu was arguably the most valuable player on the team’s formidable defense outside of Pro Bowl defensive lineman Derrick Brown, and he put together 125 tackles for 5.5 sacks and led a Top 5 defense in the league. (Luvu’s production turned into a sizable payday when he was acquired by the Commanders in free agency.)

Pantherslinebacker Frankie Luvu (49) eyes the Falcons’ quarterback before the snap during the game at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, December 16, 2023.
Pantherslinebacker Frankie Luvu (49) eyes the Falcons’ quarterback before the snap during the game at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, December 16, 2023.

But however the Evero-Jewell partnership works, the important thing is that it does work. Or at least it has previously. Jewell couldn’t speak highly enough of his familiarity with the system on Wednesday.

“I’ve already come into a bunch of new things,” said Jewell, who played college football at Iowa. “You know, new players to play with, new people upstairs. So to have the familiarity with some of the coaching staff is amazing for me and picking up the old lingo that we used to have in Denver is big, and it gives me a step up from where I’d be without that coaching staff.

“For me, familiarity is big, and it just helps me be able to feel comfortable and take big steps forward.”

Jewell, 29, signed a three-year, $22.75 million deal and is projected to start at inside linebacker alongside fellow veteran Shaq Thompson, who’s 30. Jewell said Thompson, who missed all but two games last year with a season-ending ankle injury, “understands ball” and that “you can definitely tell he’s a vet” and has enjoyed talking with him on the sideline, like-minds exchanging notes. The inside linebacker spot is also in charge of lining the defense up, communicating across the field, and the Panthers have the luxury of having guys who can do that in Jewell and Thompson.

The two will lead a room that includes two 2024 Panthers draft picks — Trevin Wallace (third round) and Michael Barrett (seventh round) — and a defense that will have a bunch of new faces in 2024.

Many of the new faces have prior experience with Evero, like Jewell does. That list includes defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson, 29, and safety Jordan Fuller, 26.

Carolina Panthers defensive end A’Shawn Robinson, left, watches his teammates run through a drill during the team’s voluntary minicamp practice on Wednesday, April 24, 2024.
Carolina Panthers defensive end A’Shawn Robinson, left, watches his teammates run through a drill during the team’s voluntary minicamp practice on Wednesday, April 24, 2024.

Jewell was asked about the offense on Wednesday, too — about how much you can discern from a unit when it isn’t under pressurized situations like an NFL game. He said there are a few “signs here and there” about how he can view if an offense will be good or not. Among them: how fast they get the ball out, what kind of stuff they’re running.

The same could be said of the defense most of the time, and of individual defensive players. But Evero and his defensive staff have a framework of what to expect out of their newly signed free agent. Jewell does, too.