NFC South: Shaun Phillips
June, 13, 2013
By Pat Yasinskas | ESPN.com
USA TODAY Sports, AP PhotoStar Lotulelei and Kawann Short have already become close as Carolina rookie defensive tackles.CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- One is so quiet that it’s difficult to get a usable quote. The other can fill up a tape recorder.
One is a classic run-stuffer. The other has the type of athleticism that has his coaches thinking he can be a strong pass-rusher.
Carolina rookie defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short might be opposites in almost every way. But they were brought in for a singular purpose, and they already are forming a strong bond.
“It seems like we’re always together,” said Lotulelei, who was drafted in the first round.
The Panthers envision Lotulelei and Short together for a very long time. They followed Lotulelei’s selection by taking Short in the second round to make sure they finally solidified the middle of their defensive line, which had been a problem spot since Kris Jenkins left after the 2007 season.
“The way I look at it is we go together hand in hand,” Short said. “We can build something special. But right now, we just have to help each other develop.”
They’re already working on that.
Let’s start with the divergent personalities, because they already are leading to a convergence.
“Star is quiet,” Short said. “I’m not.”
“I’m definitely quiet,” Lotulelei said. “I don’t know if I’d say Kawann talks a lot, but he talks a lot more than me. I don’t know that that says much because I don’t say much. We’re definitely opposites when it comes to our personalities. He’s more outgoing. It’s not that I don’t want to talk to people, but I just kind of sit back.”
But Lotulelei has been drawn out of his shell a bit, and Short might be the major reason for that.
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsWith Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short developing, Carolina coach Ron Rivera could have one of the NFL's top defensive lines in 2013.
“We text each other a lot and talk and hang out together off the field,” Short said. “We walk into and out of meetings together and walk back and forth to practice together. We’re trying to get that chemistry going.”
There also is a chemistry experiment taking place on the field. The skill sets Lotulelei and Short bring to the table are as different as their personalities.
“It’s funny to watch because, when you watch Kawann, there’s a little bit more of this flipping the hips and kind of slithering his way around,” coach Ron Rivera said. “To me, that’s very typical of Purdue defensive linemen. I’ve been around some of them, most notably Shaun Phillips that I had in San Diego, and I see a lot of those traits. A lot of the hand-to-hand combat.”
Then, there’s Lotulelei.
“When you watch Star, you see a lot of athleticism and power,” Rivera said. “He’s a very powerful player. They do complement each other because when you put those two in there, you’ve got a little bit more of a fluid-type guy versus more of a power-type guy. I think those guys can be a very good tandem for us. I most certainly would not mind seeing them in there together at the same time. That doesn’t worry me at all.”
It shouldn’t worry Rivera. The prospect of putting Short and Lotulelei on the field together should be exciting for the Panthers. If these guys are as good as advertised, Carolina could end up with one of the league’s best defensive lines.
The Panthers already have defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, who each notched double-digit sacks last season. Short and Lotulelei should take some blocking away from Johnson and Hardy, and Short should be able to generate an interior pass rush.
“I feel like we finally have a full D-line, a whole team and we’re ready to dominate,” Hardy said. “It comes down to who do you double-team? If you can’t double-team everybody, you’re screwed.”
But it won’t just be the defensive line that will benefit if Lotulelei and Short live up to their hype. Carolina has a talented trio of linebackers -- Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Jon Beason. With better play in the middle of the defensive line, Kuechly, Davis and Beason should be able to roam more freely and make more impact plays.
At least in theory, Carolina could end up having one of the league’s best front sevens. That could be a wonderful thing, because that would take some pressure off a secondary that is filled with young players and journeymen and doesn’t have anything close to a star.
New general manager Dave Gettleman came over from the New York Giants, a team that has had a lot of success by building its defense around the defensive line. It’s more than a little telling that Gettleman spent his first two draft picks on defensive tackles.
If it works out the way Gettleman imagined, Lotulelei and Short will be cornerstones of this defense for a very long time.
“To be honest, I think we can be really good,” Short said. “With his power and my get-off, we might be able to do some good things.”
Maybe even great things.