- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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We’re going to start off our midseason All-NFC South team with the defense. That’s an area where NFC South teams have not excelled this season. But there have been some strong individual performances.
Let’s take a look:
Defensive end: Charles Johnson, Panthers. Carolina gave Johnson a six-year, $72 million contract at the end of the lockout. Unlike the rest of Carolina’s defense, Johnson hasn’t disappointed. He has seven sacks, including one in each of his last three games.
Defensive end: Will Smith, Saints. He missed the first two games while serving a suspension, but Smith stepped right back into the lineup and made a strong impact. He has 4.5 sacks and also plays the run better than most defensive ends.
Defensive tackle: Brian Price, Buccaneers. Very quietly, Price has been one of the league’s most amazing stories. He missed much of his rookie year with an injury and had surgery in which screws were inserted to keep his pelvis in place. The Bucs weren’t even sure they’d have Price for the first half of the season. But he’s been starting and playing consistently well.
Defensive tackle: Corey Peters, Falcons. Atlanta’s coaches were thinking 2009 first-round draft pick Peria Jerry was finally healthy and ready to claim a starting spot at the start of the season. But Peters, who was mainly just a run stuffer last season as a rookie, has expanded his game. He’s shown signs he can generate pressure on quarterbacks and he’s held onto his starting job.
Linebacker: Sean Weatherspoon, Falcons. In his second season, Weatherspoon is emerging as a playmaker. He has excellent quickness and plays the run very well. But Weatherspoon also has been making plays on blitzes and in pass coverage.
Linebacker: Curtis Lofton, Falcons. With Beason out and New Orleans’ Jonathan Vilma slowed by a knee injury, Lofton has emerged as the best middle linebacker. He’s also the quiet leader of an Atlanta defense that has started to show signs it can become pretty good.
Cornerback: Jabari Greer, Saints. He doesn’t get nearly the attention he deserves, but Greer is the best cover corner in the NFC South. If he could produce some interceptions, he could become a legitimate Pro Bowl candidate.
Cornerback: Brent Grimes, Falcons. He gets the nod over Tampa Bay’s Ronde Barber and Carolina’s Chris Gamble. In the past, a lot of people talked about Grimes’ lack of size. That’s really not an issue any more because Grimes compensates with his athletic ability and teams that try to pick on him get burned.
Safety: William Moore, Falcons. He has only one interception, after making five last year. But Moore has turned into a solid all-around player. His tackling has improved a lot since last season.
Safety Malcolm Jenkins, Saints: He still hasn’t hit his full potential. But Jenkins has all the tools to become the best safety in the NFC South.