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With a little love, Panthers DT Kawann Short says he can be great

Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short (99) pressures Houston Texans quarterback Ryan Mallett (15) in the Sept. 20 game at Bank of America Stadium.
Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short (99) pressures Houston Texans quarterback Ryan Mallett (15) in the Sept. 20 game at Bank of America Stadium. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

On most passing downs, the Carolina Panthers likely will have Jared Allen at right end and Mario Addison on the left. Defensive end Kony Ealy will switch from end to tackle. Kawann Short will remain at tackle. Short isn’t going anywhere.

Short, 6-foot-3, 315 pounds, has the skills to get to the passer from the inside. He’s strong enough and he’s fast enough and ... he doesn’t have a sack this season.

Usually a talker, Short, 26, tells me he won’t talk. He nods at defensive lineman at Kyle Love.

“I’m not talking until Love gives me a hug,” Short says loudly so Love will hear him.

Love also weighs 315 pounds. That’s a 630-pound hug. I step back from Short’s locker to give them room.

Love won’t leave his chair. Short talks anyway.

“We know what we need to do,” he says. “We need to pick it up individually. So a lot of guys are going to have to step up, including myself.”

He’s talking about the performance of the defensive line. Define stepping up.

“Taking that extra step, that extra instant to get to the quarterback instead of pressuring,” says Short. “Me being more disruptive in the backfield.”

He says he can learn from Allen, the veteran pass rusher for whom the Panthers traded this week.

“The guy comes in and he fits like we already know him,” says Short. “He’s out there on the field talking like Rome (veteran safety Roman Harper). He’ll help us individually and as a team.”

Short had 1  1/2 sacks as a rookie two seasons ago and 3  1/2 last season.

Do you know what it would mean for the Panthers if he could consistently generate pressure on the quarterback from the inside? It would mean Addison and Allen would owe him dinner.

How good can you be?

“Great,” says Short. “I can be great.”

How do you become great?

“It’s just paying attention to detail and taking the extra step,” he says. “It’s learning the game more and studying my guy (the blocker he’ll work against) to a T. You know what he’ll do on third down, what he did on first and second down. To be great, I need to do my job and do it well and be consistent.”

Short, who played at Purdue, was drafted in the second round in 2013. As a rookie, he took time to develop, much more time than fellow rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei.

But late in Short’s rookie season he emerged.

“By the second half of my rookie season instead of being on a social network or watching TV I’m in my playbook watching opponents,” he says.

After the season Short watches video of his work.

“I looked at my rookie year and watched the (San Francisco) 49ers game at the 49ers’ place,” he says. “It was probably my worst game. I mean it’s hard because once you turn it on you know you played terrible. You got to be hard on yourself.”

Short has learned since San Francisco. He’s learned that teams are fluid and his friends might leave at any time. The Panthers this week cut veteran defensive tackle Colin Cole, a truly funny guy who was popular with his teammates.

“It was unexpected,” Short says. “But it’s not surprising anymore. All of us still look up to him and will probably call for advice if we need it. He’s still one of our brothers, and he’s going to be missed.”

Since the beginning of our conversation Love has sat on the chair in front of his locker as if he’s attached.

“Why do I want a hug?” Short asks. “It got real out on the field today. It was real hot. I was supposed to go in for him but it got too hot.”

In other words, Short selflessly watched while Love got in more repetitions and improved his game.

“I told Love I was sorry, man,” says Short. “Can I get that hug?”

Love ignores him. So I play matchmaker. Your name is Love. Come on. Offer some.

Short smiles, and Love smiles and Love – remains seated.

“He forgave me,” Short says. “But he won’t give me that hug.”       

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