In My Opinion

Thomas Davis: Pieces adding up to No. 1 in NFL for 2013 Carolina Panthers defense

June 19, 2013 

Could the Carolina Panthers’ defense become the NFL’s best in 2013?

Linebacker Thomas Davis thinks so.

That’s what Davis told me Wednesday afternoon, justifying his position by saying that the Panthers’ improvement along the defensive line and the return of linebacker Jon Beason will push the Panthers near the top of the NFL standings in total defense.

Carolina ranked No.10 in that category in 2012. Pittsburgh, Denver, San Francisco and Seattle – the Panthers’ opening-day opponent on Sept.8 – were Nos. 1-4, respectively.

“I think just given the pieces that we’ve added, getting guys back off of injury, we can definitely compete for that No. 1 spot in the league,” Davis said. He added that he thought the Panthers’ linebacker corps could not only be the best in Carolina history but also be the best linebacking unit in the NFL in 2013.

Davis made both those remarks to me in an interview after he had spoken publicly to several hundred fans at the Charlotte Touchdown Club. Davis was a last-minute substitution for another former Georgia Bulldog – Herschel Walker.

Walker was already in Charlotte on Wednesday morning, getting ready for his speech, when he got the sad news that his father had died in Georgia. Davis was supposed to simply introduce Walker but instead ended up speaking to the group himself after Walker left for Georgia.

Offseason optimism is an NFL tradition in 32 NFL cities every summer. It was taken to new heights in Charlotte a year ago when Carolina center Ryan Kalil took out a full-page ad in The Charlotte Observer predicting a Super Bowl victory for Carolina in 2012. Instead, the Panthers finished 7-9.

Davis doesn’t plan on any newspaper ads, but the first NFL player to come back from three ACL surgeries on the same knee has as much faith in the Panthers right now as he does in his own body.

“I definitely think we have all the potential in the world,” Davis said. He said part of his confidence stemmed from quarterback Cam Newton’s maturity. “We’re definitely looking forward to him going on and leading us to where we want to be this year – and that’s the Super Bowl,” Davis said.

The Panthers have never ranked No.1 for an entire NFL season in total defense, although they were No.2 in 2002 (John Fox’s first season). The best linebacking corps in team history was in 1996, when Sam Mills, Kevin Greene and Lamar Lathon all made the Pro Bowl in Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme.

The 2013 team’s defensive strength is widely considered to be the linebackers and the defensive ends – Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy both had double-digit sack years in 2012. Beason was once as good as Luke Kuechly is now at middle linebacker, but Beason has missed all but five games the past two seasons due to injuries and will play outside linebacker in 2013 to accommodate Kuechly’s emergence.

“I’m very excited about Jon Beason this year,” Davis said during his speech. “He’s moving around just as fast if not faster than he was before he got injured. And I wouldn’t be standing here telling you guys that if I didn’t see it firsthand.”

It was unusual that Davis addressed the lunch crowd at all. The Charlotte Touchdown Club has been in existence more than 20 years and has had close to 200 lunch speakers by this point, organizers said. Amazingly, this was only the second last-minute cancellation by a speaker. The first came a few years ago, when former Buffalo running back Thurman Thomas didn’t show up, they said. Walker will be rescheduled for 2014.

While Davis has always been a relentless optimist – and that quality certainly helped him come back from three serious knee injuries – his prognostication skills are mostly untested.

You can check out Davis’s prediction skills out more quickly than waiting for the end of this Panthers season and the NFL defensive rankings, however.

Davis, a huge Miami Heat fan, also guaranteed that Miami will win Game 7 over San Antonio on Thursday night.

Scott Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @Scott_Fowler

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