The Panthers struck gold last year with their first-round draft pick.
Like quarterback Cam Newton the previous year, middle linebacker Luke Kuechly won AP Rookie of the Year honors after leading the league in tackles.
Carolina coach Ron Rivera indicated this week the Panthers will be looking to find Kuechly some help – in the form of a wide-bodied defensive tackle who can keep blockers off Kuechly in the middle of the 4-3 defense.
“I think it’s a need. Is it one of our top needs? We’ll see as we go through the free agency process and the process of scouting these college football players,” Rivera said last week at the scouting combine in Indianapolis.
“But I do know having stout, physical defensive linemen is important. Just ask the linebackers. They’ll tell you how important it is so they can run and make plays.”
A couple of veteran defensive tackles became available Monday when Philadelphia cut Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson as first-year coach Chip Kelly begins shaping the Eagles into a 3-4 defense. Jenkins’ older brother is Kris Jenkins, who was the Panthers’ last impact player at defensive tackle before Dwan Edwards delivered last season.
Patterson was the Eagles’ first-round pick in 2005 and spent his first eight seasons in Philadelphia, where Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott was an assistant coach. Patterson started for the Eagles until undergoing brain surgery after the 2011 season; he wasn’t cleared until midseason last year and played in just five games.
Given the ages of Patterson (turns 30 in September) and Jenkins (32) and the Panthers’ salary-cap situation, they might be better off finding a defensive tackle in the draft.
Draft experts have called the position the deepest in the draft, and Monday’s combine tests did little to change anyone’s opinion.
Florida’s Sharrif Floyd said Saturday he planned to “put on a show” in Indy. He wasn’t lying.
Floyd, 6-foot-3 and 297 pounds, burned through the 40-yard dash in 4.92 seconds, the fastest among the defensive tackles. Floyd also posted an impressive vertical jump of 30 inches and likely positioned himself as a top-5 pick.
The Panthers pick 14th.
Plus, they could be looking for a nose tackle rather than a penetrating, so-called “3-technique.” Ron Edwards, the starter at nose until getting injured last season, is expected to be a salary cap casualty. But Rivera said he hopes the team can re-sign Edwards, an unrestricted free agent whose six sacks in 2012 ranked second among NFC defensive tackles.
Utah’s Star Lotulelei, the highest-rated defensive tackle in the draft, did not participate in combine drills after an echocardiogram revealed a heart condition that will require further testing. NFL.com’s Albert Breer reported Lotulelei’s condition is similar to Panthers defensive end Frank Alexander, who sat out combine drills last year after doctors discovered a hole in his heart.
Alexander, a fourth-round pick, played in every game as a rookie, with three starts. He finished with 2.5 sacks and 18 pressures, which was third on the team.
With Lotulelei sidelined, several other nose tackles had impressive showings Monday.
Brandon Williams, a three-time Division II All-American at Missouri Southern, did 38 reps in the 225-pound bench press, matching SMU defensive end Margus Hunt’s total as the best among all combine participants.
Williams, 6-foot-1 and 335 pounds, was a marginal prospect before playing well at the Senior Bowl.
“The big question over my head was can I play with the D-I players, and I think I definitely showed everyone at the NFL level and at the Senior Bowl that I can,” Williams said. “It was a pretty big draft bump. I was hearing from anywhere from fifth round, fourth round, third round. Now I’m hearing second. Hopefully this week I can stay in the second or maybe even move to the first.”
Alabama defensive tackle Jesse Williams did 30 reps on the bench, well off the close to 50 he claimed he did during his combine preparations. Williams, who did not run the 40 because he’s recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, grew up playing rugby in Australia.
“I wouldn’t say it shaped my game, but it helped me being aggressive,” he said. “I love this sport. I like being powerful and being able to control my body and use the techniques I have to be successful.”
Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, the Panthers’ pick at 14 in ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s most recent mock draft, ran the 40 in 5.02 seconds and did 30 reps on the bench.