Abbi Webb, Editor in Chief
2. Kony Ealy, #94
For the second installment of “Three unsung heroes on the Panthers defensive line,” I am choosing to highlight the strong performance by second year defensive end, Kony Ealy, so far in the season.
Ealy stepped in for Carolina defensive end, Charles Johnson, when he hurt his right hamstring in the week three game against the New Orleans Saints. Johnson went on injured reserve for eight weeks and is set to return in time for the Thanksgiving Day game against the Dallas Cowboys. However, the Panthers’ coaching staff is facing a tough decision with Johnson returning due to the strong performance given by his temporary replacement, Ealy.
Ealy had a lot of success in college football, gaining a total of nine sacks his senior year at the University of Missouri, but has not been able to continue the pace in his NFL career. His second year with the Carolina Panthers, however, has been his best yet. So far in the season, Ealy has outplayed Carolina’s opposite defensive end, Jared Allen, with 25 tackles, three quarterback sacks and two forced fumbles. His impressive stats for this season are the result of maturation as a player and time spent preparing for the game, according to head coach Ron Rivera.
“He holds himself accountable,’’ Rivera told ESPN. “You see him getting frustrated with himself when he makes mistakes openly now. Those are all good indications that he’s beginning to understand the importance of not just what you do on the field, but your preparation as well. He’s done a nice job with it.’’
The decision to bench Allen, who has the ninth all-time quarterback sack record, or Ealy when Johnson returns will be a tough one, especially since Allen has started every game of the season. Nonetheless, I think we can count on seeing Ealy remain an integral part of the Panthers’ team due to Rivera’s ability to grow and utilize his players’ strengths on and off the field.