CHARLOTTE -- When the Carolina Panthers wrote the contract for first-round pick Jon Beason, they included plenty of incentives which would pay him handsomely for being on the field for most of their defensive snaps.
But give the rookie linebacker credit for honesty, admitting he's still not quite ready to reach some of those playing-time bonuses.
Beason started last week's game against New England at weakside linebacker, although the team still has to decide if it wants him or veteran Na'il Diggs there for the season-opener. But even when he did work with the first team, he came out in passing situations in favor of more experienced players Dan Morgan and Thomas Davis.
When asked how close he was to being ready for third-down duty, Beason grinned and shook his head.
"With the guys we have in front of me, probably far away," Beason said. "If Dan stays healthy, he's going to be on the field every snap. Thomas is obviously going into his third year, and he's a tremendous athlete, so as far as the nickel and the dime stuff is concerned, that's down the road, barring injury. But you have to be ready."
Given there's concern about Morgan's long-term future, the Panthers have also given some consideration to Beason being his replacement. Adam Seward's backing Morgan up now, but Beason would give them a more athletic presence in the middle, even though he's still learning his first position.
"When you play linebacker, you need to know what the front's doing, what the coverage checks are," Beason said. "All three positions need to be kind of interchangeable. When they put in a new blitz or a new coverage, I can't just look at what I'm doing, you have to look at everything, because you never know what's going to happen as far as injuries.
"As my career goes on, I'll be more attuned to it, but if I had to play it, I think I could."
Beason leads the team in tackles through three preseason games, largely because they used him with the second team early and the starters last week to get him more work. But last week provided several moments which showed his inexperience, as he was rolled by Patriots fullback Heath Evans for a 43-yard gain, and later missed everything as he flew over the pile on a goal-line play which resulted in an Evans touchdown.
He's learning he can't shoulder-tackle people as he did at Miami, and that he's still got plenty to learn.
"Overall, I think I did OK," he said. "I just have to be more consistent wrapping up, and realize I can't bully everybody at this league."