NFL Wire News

Ealy has earned job as Panthers starting defensive end


The Sports Xchange

CHARLOTTE — When the Carolina Panthers opened their 2014 season in Tampa Bay, it surprised many to see second-round defensive end Kony Ealy on the inactive list.

He’s come a long way in a year.

Head coach Ron Rivera said after Sunday’s practice that “unless he completely flops” in this week’s preseason finale, Ealy will start the season opener in Jacksonville.

“He has taken the bull by the horns,” Rivera said. “He’s earned the opportunity, and I’ve been very pleased with him the last two weeks.”

After opening the preseason with a dud in Buffalo, Ealy had a sack and two tackles against both the Dolphins and Patriots.

When asked to grade himself after the first-team defense’s impressive effort against Tom Brady on Friday night, Ealy said:

“It’s a process, it’s the preseason, I don’t rate myself like that. The things I did good was good, but there were things I didn’t do good.”

Ealy’s slow start last year continued through his Week 1 appearance on the inactive list. The rookie had just one sack in his first 12 games before he rattled off three straight games with a sack at the end of the season.

When the Panthers face the Jaguars two weeks from Sunday, Ealy will line up on the right side across from Charles Johnson. He’s expected to be ready despite missing the first three preseason games with a calf strain.

Mario Addison and Wes Horton will continue to rotate in, and when the Panthers go into their “NASCAR” package, Ealy will slide inside.

Frank Alexander’s season-ending Achilles injury made it almost a foregone conclusion that Ealy would be in for the first snap against the Jaguars, but Rivera said the spot wasn’t necessarily won by default. Instead, Ealy became the second starting defensive end he hoped would emerge.

“He’s done that the last two weeks and I’ve been very pleased with his progress,” Rivera said. “I hope he continues to fight at it and hope the other guys behind him keep pushing him.”

–Safety Dean Marlowe has steadily improved since coming to Carolina in the spring. The James Madison product was one of the Panthers’ priority undrafted free agents, and with Colin Jones struggling with a groin injury, the door may have been opened for Marlowe to sneak on the final roster. But head coach Ron Rivera pretty much closed that door while hinting at a practice-squad invite.

“He’s a long ways away from where we need him to be, but he’s a young guy that’s got a chance,” Rivera said Sunday. “He’ll grow. A good year of seasoning, a good year of opportunity to watch and grow. I think he’s going to be a quality football player some day.”

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