The Carolina Panthers’ defense has gone “Hollywood.”
That’s the nickname assistant linebackers coach Everette Brown suggested for the hybrid 4-3/3-4 alignments the Panthers will play. Head coach Ron Rivera said the defensive scheme had become so predictable it was “stagnant” last season. So this is quite a shakeup that includes using defensive ends, such as Mario Addison, as part-time linebackers, occasionally dropping into coverage.
Nine seasons into his NFL career, Addison finds all the change reinvigorating.
“I love the linebacker position now. We call it ‘Hollywood:’ We get to disguise the scheme we’re about to do. They don’t know who is coming (to rush the passer),” said Addison, who has totaled nine or more sacks in each of his previous three seasons.
“I’m fast. I really get to show how (versatile) I am. I can stand up and rush out of the edge or drop. That’s who I really am.”
Yes and no.
Rivera has called the defensive ends “awkward giraffes” while they adjust to new responsibilities. Brown, a Panthers second-round pick in 2009, was brought in to help coach the linebackers, in part, because he played as a stand-up pass-rusher in this system for the San Diego Chargers in 2011.
Brown can hopefully translate nuances to players such as Addison, who are used to being down linemen. Now, he has to be conscious of receivers in a way that was off his plate before.
“When you’ve got a guy right there in the slot who runs like a 4.1, you’ve got to get over there real fast to redirect him,” Addison said, “so he doesn’t just blow past you.”
The Panthers ranked 28th among 32 NFL teams in sacks last season with 35. Much of the offseason was devoted to correcting that. The Panthers used a first-round pick on Florida State pass-rusher Brian Burns and signed defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, a six-time Pro Bowler, in June after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers waived him.
Addison says this front seven could be the best he’s played with in Carolina.
“We’re like one closed fist,” Addison said. “It’s well put together.”
Ability meets knowledge
Cornerback Donte Jackson certainly had an impact as a rookie with four interceptions and 74 tackles, but what he did was mostly on raw ability. Rivera sees a big difference in Jackson this training camp for the trial and error he went through last season.
“Even though he was confident last year, he wasn’t sure. This year he is sure and you see that in the way he’s doing things, the way he works, the way he is preparing for every practice,” Rivera said. “You see it as a much more mature young man.”
▪ Jackson worked the crowd behind the practice-field end zone Sunday after breaking up a long pass from Will Grier to Terry Godwin. With linebacker Thomas Davis’s departure to the Chargers, the defense needs new leaders, and Jackson emotes as much as any defender.
▪ Quarterback Cam Newton was back throwing in drills Sunday after being held out of those drills Saturday. The Panthers are striking a balance between keeping Newton fresh following offseason shoulder surgery, and getting him back to in-game decision-making: “This was the third time he’s thrown,” Rivera said. “You see the progression, you see the decision-making more than anything else. He’s done exactly what we were hoping for him to do.”
▪ Veteran wide receiver Torrey Smith is back in practice after being sidelined initially with a knee injury. However much Smith plays this season, his big-play track record is an asset: “Torrey was running very well on deep routes, clearing the middle out,” Rivera said. “That’s a huge thing for those underneath receivers.”