Most of the offseason talk about the Panthers’ linebackers has been about the two that didn’t play the majority of the 2011 season.
Lost in the shuffle is the one who did — James Anderson, who turned in a record-setting year following season-ending injuries to Jon Beason and Thomas Davis.
Anderson set a franchise record with 174 tackles, breaking Beason’s mark of 169 set in 2009.
But Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Anderson’s increased leadership responsibilities and willingness to play through pain were just as impressive as the tackles.
“When we first got started he was not a very vocal guy. But as his role increased, you could see his confidence grow as a linebacker and took a leadership role,” Rivera said at the combine.
“I think that’s the biggest thing he had to do. He shows you he can do it athletically. He shows he can do it mentally – a very cerebral, smart football player with good athletic ability.”
Rivera said Anderson played the second half of the season with an ankle injury, but did not miss any games.
“He had that ankle that just constantly nagged him. And every day he was out there practicing, doing the best he can,” Rivera said. “I really thought he stepped up in terms of his career.”
One more defensive note from Rivera’s visit with the media Thursday:
–The Panthers plan to use free agent Jyles Tucker as a pass-rushing end. Tucker, who played for Rivera in San Diego but was out of the league last year, lined up at linebacker and end for the Chargers.
Tucker, 28, who played at Wake Forest, started 12 games and had 5.5 sacks for San Diego in 2008. But he has played in only 10 games, with one sack, in the three years since.
“We’ve got to find out if Jyles has a little juice left like he had a couple years ago for us in San Diego,” Rivera said. “He’ll be down (in a three-point stance). Take him back to his roots that he had when he was at Wake Forest in terms of being a pass-rusher.
“We’re going to ask him to see if he still has it. When he came in and worked out for us, we were very pleased with what we saw.”