Panthers' quicker pressure defense sitting well with Lewis

CHARLOTTE -- Damione Lewis just grinned when asked about the Panthers' new pass rush. And the prospect of what they could do once fully staffed brought a broad smile to his face.

Perhaps no aspect of the team is changing — or needed changing — as much as the ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks. From the new stripped-down scheme brought in by coordinator Ron Meeks to trading next year's first-round pick so they could take defensive end Everette Brown, there's a sense of a fresh start.

“I think we're doing a pretty good job,” Lewis said. “Guys are getting upfield and pushing the pocket pretty good. We don't have pads on, so guys aren't all-out with it, but I think we've got a good solid group. We're working hard and we've got a good ways to go to get ready for that opener.

“We've got the world in front of us right now, and we're really trying to push it the best we can.”

Lewis, the team's best interior rusher, said last week he was encouraged by the extensive work on the nickel rush package. The Panthers had Charles Johnson at right end (the spot normally occupied by absent franchise player Julius Peppers), with Lewis and Tyler Brayton at the tackles. Brown was rushing from the left end, where he has taken the majority of his work since arriving.

That puts him up against bigger right tackles, but also creates the possibility of a “meet you at the quarterback” tandem with Peppers that has potential if Peppers shows up.

Even without Peppers, the group is emboldened at the moment by the scheme change, which gives them a chance to rush aggressively. Johnson began showing signs last year of emerging as a factor, with six sacks, but the ends not named Peppers have just 17.5 career sacks, so adding Brown was a necessity, not a luxury.

There's a vague sense that part of Peppers' frustration in Charlotte stemmed from a lack of pass-rush help (he never complained when Mike Rucker was playing), so adding Brown might be part of what brings him back into the fold. There's been no word from Peppers' camp, but the Panthers keep saying they anticipate him back for training camp.

Lewis said he hasn't spoken to Peppers in a few months, but said from what he's seen on the field this summer, he knows his erstwhile teammate will like what he sees upon his return.

“I think Julius would be unbelievable in this scheme,” Lewis said. “I think when he gets back, he's going to be really excited about some things we're doing with the ends. I think he's going to have a lot of fun with it.”

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