Unlike their offensive counterparts, defensive lineman are more easily recognized, especially ones who get lots of tackles behind the line. Good D linemen are usually team leaders and, similarly to O linemen, are important to a team's success. This year the Panthers' D Line will be charged with stopping several high caliber quarterbacks and running backs, such as Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. Here's a by-position breakdown of the guys who will be doing the dirty work on defense this year.
Note: Because the Panthers have yet to released an official depth chart, all strings are projected.
Left Defensive End
In contrast to the offensive line, the Panthers' defensive line looks like it will remain largely unchanged from last year's campaign. Charles Johnson, coming off an eleven-sack season, will almost certainly keep his spot at defensive end this year. Backing him up will be fourth-year player Mario Addison, who saw action in all sixteen games last season, along with second round draft pick Kony Ealy who can play anywhere the Panthers need him.
Left Defensive Tackle
The Panthers had just five picks in last year's draft, and used two of them on defensive tackles. This has proven to be a wise investment, as Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short have both emerged as stalwarts in the team's four-man DT rotation. Last year Short split time on the left side with veteran Dwan Edwards, the Ravens' second round pick in 2004, but look for the Panthers to start gradually increasing the youngster's workload. If all goes well, Short, a 6'3" 310 pounder out of Purdue, should be well equipped to take over this position full time once Edwards hangs up his cleats.
Right Defensive Tackle
Star Lotulelei may have been one of the more under-the-radar guys at last year's draft, but he's quickly establishing himself as one of the league's best up-and-coming D linemen. In his rookie season he started all sixteen games, recording 47 tackles and three sacks. Backing up Lotulelei will be Colin Cole, who started 26 games for Seattle in 2009 and 2010 before sustaining an ankle injury that would keep him out of football until last year. Cole, who negotiated his own contract with the Panthers, started 13 games for Carolina in 2013 but did not earn consideration for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year. Still, Cole has proven to be a valuable mentor to Short and Lotulelei and a player who can fill in for them if called upon.
Right Defensive End
There are a number of ways this one could go. Greg Hardy, a 2013 Pro Bowler who briefly became internet famous after he identified himself as the Kraken and listed his school as Hogwarts during a Sunday Night Football game against New Orleans, would be a shoo-in to keep his spot on the right side if it weren't for his offseason legal troubles. On May 13, Hardy was arrested on domestic violence charges involving his ex-girlfriend. His next court date is June 27, and if he is convicted, there is the possibility that he could be in prison for the first few games of the season. Even if he's innocent, Hardy could still be suspended by the NFL or even by his own team. Whether he misses one game or twelve, the Panthers' 2013 sack leader (15, tied for the team's single-season record) will leave a Kraken-sized hole in the D Line. Taking Hardy's place on the right side would most likely be Kony Ealy, a highly versatile player whose dominance at Missouri (9.5 sacks in 2013) was largely overlooked by the media due to teammate Michael Sam. The best thing about Ealy is that he has shown he can play either end position and move inside to tackle. If Hardy is sidelined for whatever reason, Ealy should be able to step right in and make an impact. If the best-case scenario happens, and Hardy is found innocent and no suspension is given, the Kraken should be back in full force. Regardless, the future (and the present) looks bright for this position and the whole D Line.