Carolina Panthers

Beason says middle spot is Morgan's

Carolina linebacker Dan Morgan (left) takes on rookie Jon Beason during a tackling drill at training camp.
Carolina linebacker Dan Morgan (left) takes on rookie Jon Beason during a tackling drill at training camp.

CHARLOTTE -- There are folks who are ready to give Dan Morgan's job to Jon Beason forever.

Beason is not among them.

The Carolina Panthers' rookie linebacker said Wednesday he's keeping the seat warm, knowing his responsibilities in the middle will evaporate when Morgan returns from his partially torn Achilles tendon. That could be as soon as the post-bye game against Indianapolis, Morgan said this week.

"That's what I hope," Beason said. "People get nicked all the time, and I would hope if I got nicked for a couple weeks I wouldn't lose my job. Obviously if a guy's playing well, people might consider it a controversy.

"But Dan's proven, he knows it far better than I do. It's not like I'm going to bring more to the table than a healthy Dan Morgan will. With both of us out there, we're a better defense."

Perhaps so, but the Panthers played their best defense of the season the last two games, when Beason was pressed into duty. They've given up 23 combined points to New Orleans and Arizona, after surrendering an average of 21.8 per game the first four.

Much of that credit gravitates to Beason, who has upped his tackle average from 6.5 per game in his old weakside spot to 9.0 in the middle. Coach John Fox acknowledged the first-rounder's strides, admitting of the switch, "We were probably a week too late doing it."

But they did so to keep from overloading Beason, an option they could no longer afford after realizing James Anderson was miscast in the middle against Tampa Bay and Morgan was still nearly a month away.

Beason's not shrinking from the added responsibility of calling the defensive signals, which was added on top of catching up from his eight-day contract holdout. When asked which spot he preferred, he grinned and said, "When you buy a new car, you have the old classic that you love, but you get a new car and it's a new toy."

"Right now, it's fun -- for the time being," Beason said. "I know Dan's going to come back, and I'll just move back outside. Whatever that day is when they want me to play middle, I'll play middle."

Of course, the elephant in the middle of the room is the timing of that day.

Morgan's missed 43 of a possible 102 games (42.2 percent) in his career because of injuries. And after they restructured his contract last offseason to make it a pay-for-play arrangement, it's easy to see the Panthers were looking to the future when they chose Beason with the 25th overall pick.

He knows they plan for him to play inside eventually, but hopes for the sake of his friend and teammate it's years from now.

"Yeah, but I don't think it's necessarily going to be a coaching decision," he said. "It's when Dan's ready, Dan will step down. That's a tribute to him, he's a great player, he's been through a lot of injuries, and we know he's getting older. I mean, sun rises, sun sets, you know?

"If it was up to me, I would hope he could play 10 more years so we could play together. That's one thing I was looking forward to, is being out there on the field with him, learning a lot, watching him. I've been taking notes and want to have that same mystique he has at that position."

That's what is often lost in discussions of Morgan -- just how valuable he is to the defense.

Defensive end Mike Rucker has been pleased with Beason's progress in his two weeks calling the shots, but that there's a different plane the rookie hadn't reached yet.

"He'd be the first one to tell you, he's got things to learn, but he's doing a great job right now," Rucker said. "He's the quarterback of the defense right now and he's getting us lined up and you could see in the last two weeks, the week after, he's gotten better. His confidence is growing, and he's going to be a great one.

"When Dan is out there, Dan is Dan. And there's nobody else like Dan. Dan got nicked up and Beas stepped up and has learned that role. We can't wait to have Dan back, because like I said, Dan is Dan."

Beason's going to make a name for himself in time. He knew he played well in his debut in the middle when Fox approached him on the plane ride home and told him to "stay humble and keep working."

"I knew then I had played a great game," he said. "I hadn't even watched the tape yet."

And while he's got a preternatural confidence that comes from instinct, he's also a rookie, and can laugh at himself and acknowledge his place.

Beason laughed and mentioned the game turned in by replacement weakside linebacker Na'il Diggs last week, hoping he can fend off Diggs for his old job when Morgan returns.

"Maybe there's going to be more controversy -- Na'il's playing great right now," Beason said. "Everybody's stepping up, doing their part and we're having fun with it."

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