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Kawann Short needs to come up big for rebuilding Panthers defense
Tackle healthy after rotator cuff surgery
 
Published Monday, August 3, 2020 1:46 pm
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

PHOTO | CURTIS WILSON
Defensive tackle Kawann Short, who missed all but two games last year after rotator cuff surgery, is a key figure in the Carolina Panthers' rebuilt defense.

To get an idea of the Carolina Panthers’ overhaul, look no farther than last year’s captains.


Cam Newton, Greg Olsen and Colin Jones? Cut.

Luke Kuechly? Retired.


Kawann Short? The defensive tackle returns after missing all but two games due to a partially torn rotator cuff that required surgery.


The irony isn’t lost on him.


“I don't even know what to say about that,” Short said. “Seeing those guys and then next thing you know it’s all you know vanished and it just trickles down. But again, it’s a business, whether those guys went to a different team it’s not like we’re not friends anymore. I still consider those guys captains in life and whatever they want to do in life I feel that they're going to be ahead of the curve and knowing they can conquer anything they take on.”


For the Panthers, who went 5-11 last year and jettisoned head coach Ron Rivera and his entire staff in the process, rebuilding starts with cultivating leaders. Short, one of the league’s top defensive tackles when healthy, believes he’s close although the COVID-19 pandemic forced adjustments with Bank of America Stadium off-limits until training camp opened last week.


“I’m still working on little cases as far as just getting a range of motion but other than that I feel good,” he said. “The shoulder repair was an awesome success and as far as the whole COVID thing … luckily I had a couple [of things] that I could do at home. I got a Peloton and riding a bike and just being outside that just made it a lot more secure for me to get out and shed some pounds and sweat a little more.


“Just [to] be able to do a lot more things, getting in the pool working arm motion, it was definitely one of those things that you had to [do]. You had to reinvent to just see stuff outside of the facility [like] barbells and different stuff around the house. Wall pushups and stuff like that, so it was definitely a challenge.”


Short’s return is essential for the Panthers to improve on last year’s historically bad defense, which was one of the NFL’s worst. Carolina gave up an average of 143.5 rushing yards per game to rank 29th among 32 teams. They allowed 31 rushing touchdowns and 5.2 yards per attempt, both worst in the league. A healthy Short, paired with first-round pick Derrick Brown at tackle, would go a long way toward beefing up the interior.


“We love having K.K. back,” linebacker Shaq Thompson said. “He’s a tremendous help to this defense. K.K. is a big part of his defense and just to have him teaching Derrick Brown, [who is] a special young guy, I think he’ll be a tremendous player in this league. Just having those guys and [ends Brian] Burns and Stephen [Weatherly], man is going to be tremendous.”


Said Short: “You’ve got to be better than last year. You’ve got to be disciplined and we all got to come in with the right mindset and the most common goal is to win, so we’ve got to hold each other accountable. If we see one position or one player or one coach slacking, we’ve just got to be communicative and tell these guys like if the defensive line is not doing their job, tell us and we’ll get it corrected, as far as a defense. You’ve got to be able to take criticism and make it motivation.”


As a veteran accustomed to a traditional NFL training camp, Short is trying to adjust to the reality of COVID-19 on team preparations. Everything is spread out – from locker rooms to practice and rehab areas. There’s also an addition to camp attire: contact tracers that alert the wearer when they get within 6 feet of another person.


“As far as me in general just getting back into football mode, it's just a whirlwind right now and trying to get myself set to where I’m back into the norm of what I'm doing and how I do to get prepared for training camp,” Short said. “We got a lot of cautious stuff around here so we have to understand that the stuff that we normally do, the year in and year out of camp, you have to realize that now it's a whole another direction there we’re going as far as trying to keep everybody safe in this building.”

On the field, Short is preparing for adjustments under new defensive coordinator Phil Snow, who has indicated more interchangeable roles up front. For a tackle who’s accustomed to wreaking havoc along the interior, there may be opportunities to move outside as an edge rusher when called upon.


“I'm just available wherever they want me to play,” Short said. “I'm there and I’ve just got to learn how to position on people who aren't going to know what every guy does on every play so just being available when a when a play is called and if they tell me to bump out, I've got a bump out and know what I'm doing. Everybody on the defensive line’s got to know every position on the defensive line. We often take on that task and I think we often do it well.”

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