Going into this season, the Panthers most likely planned to line up Charles Johnson and Frank Alexander on opposite ends of their defensive line.
Charles Johnson is the most valued defensive end that the Panthers carry on their roster. Johnson battled injuries during the preseason, missing all four games with a strained calf and upper back injury, but will look to make his debut against the Jaguars this Sunday.
Frank Alexander was on the fast track to more playing time this season, but then injured his Achilles during the Panthers' second preseason game. Alexander will spend the entire 2015 season on IR.
This opens the door for another Panthers' DE, and the name we should keep an eye out for -- second-year pass rusher Kony Ealy.
Kony Ealy had a great preseason -- probably the best of any Panthers' defensive lineman. Ealy has a fantastic opportunity due to an unfortunate injury, and will look to combine his versatility with this opportunity to make his presence felt against the Jaguars week 1.
The Panthers moved Ealy around the line a lot during the preseason. Against the Jaguars, Ealy will probably spend most of his playing time pestering Luke Joeckel from the right-end position.
During week 2 of the preseason, Ealy snagged an early sack/fumble that showcased his strength and speed. Take a look at Ealy lining up on the right side below:
Ealy actually isn't the left tackle's responsibility on this play. Dolphins TE Dion Sims is going to do his best to cross the formation and pick off Ealy's pass rush.
Sims has a hard time beating Ealy to his spot, but actually gets a pretty good chunk of Ealy's rush.
Ealy keeps driving, and actually finds a way to meet Ryan Tannehill at the top of his drop. Sims holds Ealy here, but it's not going to slow him down. Unfortunately, you can see Frank Alexander rupturing his Achilles at this moment near the bottom of this frame.
Tannehill begins to step up, but Ealy gets to him way too fast. Ealy swats the ball and collects a sack/fumble on the 4th play of the game.
Here's the play in video form, if you're into that kind of thing:
Charles Johnson will probably play, but #Panthers DE Kony Ealy will be the guy to watch on Sunday. https://t.co/mI5r56oTW8— Cole Hartley (@ColeFartley) September 8, 2015
I may sit among the minority of Jaguars fans (the ones with their eyes open), but I saw Luke Joeckel make visible strides this preseason. I don't necessarily think Joeckel looks stronger -- even though the Jaguars swear he bulked up this offseason -- but I do believe that practice field time with Doug Marrone has strengthened Luke's abilities. Joeckel is doing a better job of keeping his hands inside, and his footwork looks more convincing than it did last season.
It's very clear, however, that Luke Joeckel will face a big test early and often on Sunday. I have no doubt that the Panthers are planning to abuse the left side of the Jaguars O-line.
Kony Ealy is versatile enough to shift inside as well. The Panthers and head coach Ron Rivera value versatility within their D-line, and will probably shift Ealy around on an any-down basis -- not just on 3rd down.
There were a few defensive series during the Panthers/Dolphins preseason match-up in which Ealy lined up inside for the majority of plays. Here's the play that stood out the most to me:
Ealy lines up as a 3T here. It's not 3rd down, or necessarily even a passing down, but the Panthers' are aware of Ealy's versatility and will most likely move him around in a similar manner to disrupt the Jaguars offense on Sunday.
Ealy gets off the ground fast and hits the guard with a quick swim move.
Matt Moore gets the pass off, but he also gets a face full of Kony Ealy.
Here's the pay in full speed:
The #Panthers move Ealy inside, but not just on 3rd down. Here he breaks out the swim https://t.co/BE9vxZLETH— Cole Hartley (@ColeFartley) September 8, 2015
Kony Ealy is a raw talent. He carries a lot of disorderly energy to each position he plays, but also has the ability to bust out a clean pass rush move every once in a while.
Most of all, Ealy has the natural ability get after the QB. His sacks aren't clean-ups, and his pressure on the QB is usually a solo effort.
Charles Johnson and the rest of the Panthers' defensive line will be a fantastic test for the Jaguars' revamped offensive line, but Kony Ealy will be the name to watch as he searches for different angles to attack the Jaguars on Sunday.