It’s all about the get-off.
That’s the term regularly thrown around by defensive linemen.
The get-off is an explosion. It’s how quickly you, as a defensive lineman, can get out of your stance at the snap of the ball and beat the offensive lineman.
For Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short, that has been the first key to success this season.
Short, known as KK, is all about get-off. It’s what has helped him to his 12-sack season that earned him his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors. It got him his playoff sack of Russell Wilson last weekend and forced Wilson to throw an interception that went for a Luke Kuechly touchdown.
“That get-off, it’s going to determine what that guy in front of you is going to do or could do,” Short said. “His job is to reach you. And if you get off and he doesn’t reach you, next thing you know you’re making a (tackle for loss).”
Short’s get-off will be imperative Sunday against a Cardinals offense that loves to pass the ball. Last week the Green Bay Packers shut down the Arizona run game, so Carson Palmer dropped back to pass 44 times.
This weekend Short will face a four-time Pro Bowler in guard Mike Iupati. Short usually will be lined up across from Iupati’s outside shoulder.
“It should be a good matchup,” Short said. “At the same time I can’t dwell on what happened last week. These guys are two totally different guards, and the centers as well. I’m just going to take everything. It’s the NFC championship and they’re going to give it their all, and I’m going to do it as well.”
An acquired skill
Short wasn’t born with that explosion, though. He was a good high school basketball player who was on an Indiana state championship team. Short, who said he could have played college basketball, was able to dunk in his freshman year of high school but didn’t do it in a game until his junior year.
“A dunk and layup are both two points,” Short said. “It’s the same. The less you dunk, you don’t have to be tired. I was thinking like that in high school.”
And he might have been thinking like that in college, too. Short starred at Purdue for four years, registering 19 1/2 sacks in 50 games.
But his biggest knock was that he didn’t give consistent effort – and he sometimes was described as lazy. In part because of that, Short went in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft despite Carolina having a first-round grade on him.
The Panthers drafted Short one round after taking another defensive tackle, Star Lotulelei. Lotulelei was the run-stuffing tackle and Short had some things to work on.
“He’s come a long way, especially from our rookie year,” Lotulelei said. “Just being a dominant player that he’s always been capable of. I think he kind of had to get some things figured out when we came in as rookies, but ever since then he’s really taken off. He hasn’t looked back. He’s been the most dominant inside player in the league this year, in my opinion.”
Welcome to Year 3
In Year 3, Short is starting to put it all together. And it has started with the get-off.
“Explosiveness comes from working on things you need to work on as far as the weight room, squats and cleans,” Short said. “Just transfer it over to the field. I wouldn’t say I was born with it.”
Now Short and Lotulelei have become one of the best tandems in the league. In fact, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians called them the best inside duo in the NFL since they complement each other so well.
Lotulelei stuffs the run and Short works around his blocker. And on passing downs, Lotulelei occupies two offensive linemen while Short tries to get to the backfield.
“I’ve been trying to tell these guys all week, we have to stop those two big guys inside, be it the run game or pass,” Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said this week. “We’ve got to kind of negate what they do because they are pivotal to what they’re doing defensively.”
Getting to the quarterback
Short’s 11 regular-season sacks this season were the most by a Panthers defensive tackle in team history. His four games with multiple sacks were the second-most in the league this year behind Houston’s J.J. Watt.
Short became the first tackle in NFL history to be named a defensive player of the month twice in a season, winning it for October and December this season.
And his 11 sacks tied him with Aaron Donald and Geno Atkins – players he said he studies to get better – for most among all defensive tackles.
“It just means you’re doing something right,” Short said. “And to get to that double-digit sack number is big around here and big around the NFL. Not a lot of defensive tackles do it so of course you want it.”
A big play vs. Seahawks
Sunday against the Seahawks, Short showed that get-off early. On Seattle’s second play from scrimmage, Short, lined up in a three-point stance, beat the left guard while staying to the guard’s outside shoulder.
Wilson, back to pass, saw Short coming quickly, so he forced a throw that went into the waiting arms of Kuechly, who returned it for a short score.
“Any time that the rush complements your coverage it makes your job easier,” Kuechly said. “Really I was just kind of standing there and he tossed it right to me. So that’s why I was trying to give KK all the credit because he deserved it all.”
Four plays later, Short was back in the Seattle backfield sacking Wilson for a loss of 10 yards.
That’s why the get-off is so crucial, Short said. Once the quarterback gets it in his mind that Short is coming, he already has won a small victory.
“He’s knowing that you’re coming,” Short said. “He’s going to throw it a little faster or get off his spot. Or he’ll look for you coming and next thing he knows somebody else hits him.
“Once he knows that get-off is coming, that’s the most important thing.”