SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) — Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera spent a good portion of practice on Tuesday morning standing alongside general manager Marty Hurney, watching intently as players went through pass rush drills.
Rip technique. Swim move. Egg beaters and bull rushes.
Rivera wants to see them all.
Applying pressure to the quarterback is an area Rivera has a keen interest in heading into his second season with Carolina.
The Panthers (No. 20 in AP Pro 32) managed just 31 sacks last season, and Rivera said getting pressure on the quarterback is "something we have to get better at," especially playing in a highly competitive division that includes quarterbacks Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman.
Rivera is counting on increased production from, among others, starting defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy. That duo combined for just 13 sacks last year, although Johnson said they are developing good chemistry working together this summer, and the future is bright.
"Hopefully we'll see some double digit sacks out of both of us this year," Johnson said.
Johnson parlayed an 11.5-sack season in 2010 into a whopping six-year, $76 million contract last year, making him the team's highest-paid player and a cornerstone of the franchise. His ability to stop the run certainly played a huge role in him getting that big contract, but Rivera hinted at Johnson being capable of more after being held to nine sacks last year.
Rivera said the team needs him.
"Charles is very consistent right now, but we need him to take it to another level," Rivera said. "He's doing the things we want him to do, but we want him to do more. That's why we have him here."
But Johnson could use some help.
No other Carolina player had more than four sacks last season, including Hardy.
If Hardy is able to step up his play at right end, it should take some of the double teams away from Johnson on the left side and give him more one-on-one pass rush opportunities.
Linebacker Jon Beason called Hardy "a wild card."
"He's so special in terms of talent and potential that you never know what you're going to get," Beason said.
Beason believes if Hardy puts his mind to it he can be great.
"He can make the wild play whenever he chooses to," Beason said of Hardy, a sixth-round draft pick in 2010 out of Ole Miss. "But you look for him to mature now going into his third year and take ownership of that position, to say 'I'm the starter' and 'Hey, what happens is predicated on what I do.' So, go ahead and be a dominant force."
If you owe under $729k you may qualify for 3.05% APR Govt Refi Plans.