Jon Gruden motivates Jon Beason

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Jon Beason knew that switching positions would be tough, but he didn’t realize it would this tough.

“I didn’t think there would be that much of a (learning) curve,” said Beason after Tuesday’s practice, referring to the move from middle to weak side linebacker. “It’s with anything new. Well, not so much as it’s new, but just trying to get that comfort level where I can play free and not think as much, more instinctive.”

Beason said he didn’t have any mental errors in last Thursday night’s exhibition game against Baltimore, although he did slip once, which drew some rare criticism from ESPN color analyst and former Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden.

“It was a little slippery out there, and I slipped on one play where Gruden referred to me as a fish out of water,” Beason said. “I appreciate it. It’s just a little added motivation, more fuel to the fire. When I see coach Gruden I’ll let him know how I feel about it…You’re not going to look perfect on every play.”

The Panthers still believe moving Beason, a two-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker, to the weak side to fill in for the injured Thomas Davis gives them the best chance to win.

And Beason downplayed the move by saying he won’t be on the weak side every down.

In fact, he said in four out of five defensive packages the Panthers will have installed he’ll actually be playing middle linebacker.

He estimates that out of the roughly 75 snaps per game he’ll only be on the weak side for about 25 plays.

For instance, when the Panthers go to a nickel package, Dan Connor will come out and Captain Munnerlyn comes in, allowing Beason to move to his more comfortable position inside.

Coach John Fox said Beason will play a variety of spots on defense.

“I feel comfortable with him at any linebacker spot, whether it’s third down at Mike or Will or whether it’s first or second down at Mike, Will or Sam (strong side),” said coach John Fox. “He's a guy we know the most about; he’s got the most history with us. He’s got the ability to play at any of those spots. Right now, we’re sorting out who the best three are to get ready for the Giants opener.”

“It all depends on what kind of game it is. If we jump up seven to 10 points, they’re probably going to go three- or four-wide receiver sets where I’m probably going to be the Mike the whole game,” Beason said.

As for those 25 plays or so at the Will position, Beason said he has some things to improve upon before the regular-season opener.

He’s used to running from one side of the field to the other — and he’s quite good at it — but said there are times when he simply isn’t allowed to do that.

“I have to be a little more disciplined when I’m playing the weak side,” Beason said. “When you’re the Mike, you have to have the ability to go both ways based on the play. At the Will sometimes they run away from you (so you) have to sit back because and contain. So some plays I can’t be as aggressive.”

The team has repeatedly applauded Beason’s unselfish move to the Will spot, even though it could cost him a shot at a third Pro Bowl.

Beason said it’s no big deal.

“I think it’s football, man,” he said. “Somebody goes down and the No. 2 guy steps up and performs when it’s his turn.”

Beason said he’s been impressed with the play of Connor, his replacement at the Mike spot in the base defense.

“He’s looked great,” Beason said. “Everything we’ve anticipated he would do. He played well in the scrimmage. He played well in the game against the Ravens for the time that he was in there. I think there’s still room for improvement. He hasn’t maxed out, so he still has the ability to get a lot better.”

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