Depth at LB a luxury for Panthers

Beason

The Panthers finally have some depth at linebacker to boast about. If they lined up to play the San Diego Chargers in the regular season opener today, Landon Johnson, the team's highest-paid free agent pickup this offseason, and Dan Connor, the team's highly-touted third-round draft pick from Penn State, wouldn't even crack the starting lineup.

The Panthers finally have some depth at linebacker to boast about.

If they lined up to play the San Diego Chargers in the regular season opener today, Landon Johnson, the team's highest-paid free agent pickup this offseason, and Dan Connor, the team's highly-touted third-round draft pick from Penn State, wouldn't even crack the starting lineup. As of this moment, those jobs belong to Jon Beason, Thomas Davis and Na'il Diggs.

The depth doesn't stop with Johnson and Connor.

Adam Seward, a well-liked but often injured former fifth-round pick, is back and looking better than ever. The team will also have to make some tough cuts with James Anderson, a third-round pick in 2006, competing for a roster spot with Tim Shaw, Donte Curry and Brandon Jamison, all three of whom are considered solid contributors on special teams.

"We've probably got more depth at that position than we've had in a very long time," general manager Marty Hurney said back in April.

Hurney's comments came after the team drafted Connor in the third round, a curious move considering they had other needs and already seemed pretty deep at linebacker. But like center Ryan Kalil the year before, the Panthers had Connor ranked too high on their draft board to let him pass.

Although Connor is currently splitting time with Seward as the second team middle linebacker, that will be one battle to keep an eye on going forward.

"He's a very aware guy," coach John Fox said of Connor. "He's picking things up quickly. I've been impressed with him in the short look we've had."

Johnson, meanwhile, is bouncing back and forth between weak-side and strong-side linebacker, backing up Davis and Diggs. Given the three-year, $10 million contract he signed with the Panthers earlier this offseason, it wouldn't surprise anyone if he replaces Diggs in the starting lineup once the season begins.

Diggs also got a three-year deal back in December, but it's worth about half of what Johnson will make.

"He's a guy that had been a leading tackler with the (Cincinnati) Bengals and we liked his athleticism and everything we heard about him," Fox said of Johnson. "And we like what we've seen of him so far."

Johnson said he isn't worried about starting right now.

His goal is to accumulate as much information as possible moving forward and help out where he can.

"I'm trying to learn multiple positions," Johnson said. "Knowledge is power. The more you know the more effective you are as a player. If I know multiple positions then I will know the defense better.

"Every defense has its own philosophy. It's a little different here as far as run fits and pass drops. The technique and terminology are the biggest difference. But I'm getting a handle on it."

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