The Carolina Panthers filled their need and then some for a big defensive tackle in Dave Gettlemans first draft as the teams general manager.
But did the Panthers focus on interior linemen Gettleman calls them hog mollies, coach Ron Rivera prefers the term, space-eaters leave them wanting in other areas after five picks over three days?
Not to Gettleman.
The former New York Giants pro personnel director said before the draft he saw no major holes on the Panthers roster. Many outsiders scoffed, thinking the Panthers would address the secondary in the draft.
Carolina considered Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes with its first-round pick before taking Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei.
Based on Gettlemans actions during the draft and his subsequent comments, a couple of things became evident:
• His years with the Giants and their dominant defensive fronts convinced him that a strong pass rush can cover a lot of warts in the secondary;
• He and Rivera believe the Panthers young defensive backs and their free-agent acquisitions in the secondary are better than the experts believe.
Ive seen what a feeding frenzy looks like. We had a game against Philadelphia a few years back where we had 12 sacks, and we had a game against Chicago where we sacked Cutler 10 times, Gettleman said. I really believe in it. Can it mask issues in the secondary? Of course it does.
But honestly, as an evaluator the answer is often on your roster. The advantage we have is we watch all the practice tape and we watch game tape and see if a young man is ascending. We feel we have a couple of young kids who are ascending and we feel good about them.
As presently constructed, the Panthers have three nickel backs, a couple of young corners and a question mark at one of the safety spots. Rivera said veteran Charles Godfrey is set at free safety, while newcomer Mike Mitchell and D.J. Campbell, a seventh-round pick in 2012, will compete at strong safety.
Journeyman Drayton Florence is the favorite to win one of the cornerback spots, while the Panthers hope second-year corner Josh Norman will come back more disciplined after losing his starting job the final four games of his rookie season.
Captain Munnerlyn and former Chicago Bears defensive back D.J. Moore are the top nickels.
While there has been much discussion about how drafting Lotulelei and Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short in the first two rounds will keep blockers off middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, Rivera emphasized that their presence will assist the secondary as well.
Theyre going to help with the pass rush because the quarterback is not going to be able to step up, Rivera said. A good front helps the back, and thats part of it.
Gettleman indicated the Panthers would sign at least one more tight end to complement Greg Olsen and Ben Hartsock, who is primarily a blocker. Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert was in the discussion for the 14th pick before the Panthers went with Lotulelei.
There was pre-draft speculation that the Panthers might draft a successor for left tackle Jordan Gross if one of the top three tackles fell. But Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel and Lane Johnson were gone after the first four picks.
Edmund Kugbila, the Panthers fourth-round pick, will vie for the right guard spot with veteran Geoff Hangartner. But the backups behind Gross and right tackle Byron Bell are unreliable, particularly Bruce Campbell.
After Kugbila, the Panthers drafted Iowa State linebacker A.J. Klein and Oregon running back Kenjon Barner, a sixth-round pick and the only true skill-position player taken.
Rivera would have liked to have added another offensive player or two, but believes the Panthers made the most of their picks. If Lotulelei and Short team with defensive tackle Dwan Edwards and ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy to collapse the pocket and make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks most weeks, it will have been a successful draft.
Well, it will be too late to throw these hog mollies back.
It goes back to the pass rush. Youre putting pressure on the quarterback and hes throwing the ball before he wants to, Rivera said. Dave has said it before in our meetings, its hard to throw off your back.
And not just (on) your back laying on the ground, but your back foot. We know that the opportunities are going to happen.
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