September 25, 2013
CHARLOTTE (AP) — Coach Ron Rivera isn’t sure if three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason will return to the starting lineup Oct. 6 when the Panthers visit the Arizona Cardinals.
Carolina (1-2) has a bye this week.
Rivera quietly changed up the starting lineup on Sunday, replacing Beason — who’s struggling to get back healthy following knee surgery last October — with veteran Chase Blackburn at weak side linebacker.
The move worked out well as the Panthers sacked Eli Manning seven times and forced three turnovers in a 38-0 rout of the New York Giants.
Beason only played one snap on defense.
While it’s hard to see Rivera making a change to the lineup after such a dominant defensive performance, he said he’ll take a “wait-and-see” approach as to whether the decision to go with Blackburn is permanent.
“As we go through this, we’re going to put the people on the field that give us the best opportunity to win football games,” Rivera said.
Beason declined to comment on the benching Tuesday.
Beason started every game his first four seasons with the Panthers and is a popular figure in the locker room and in the Charlotte community.
But he clearly hasn’t been the same player since first tearing his Achilles in 2011 season opener.
This year he’s struggled in pass coverage, particularly against Buffalo when he gave up five passes for 112 yards in Carolina’s 24-23 loss to the Bills.
The Panthers had tried to let Beason play his way into football shape after missing all of training camp, but after an 0-2 start Rivera felt compelled to make a change and go with the healthier Blackburn.
Rivera said it was difficult to inform Beason of the decision.
“He’s a competitor,” Rivera said. “He’s working hard to recapture that form and that style of football he’s used to playing. We’ll continue to keep giving him reps, keep working with him, keep developing him and we’ll see.”
The Panthers brought in Blackburn because of his ability to play all three linebacker positions and his leadership. The 30-year-old Blackburn has won two Super Bowl rings with the Giants and teammates say he’s one of the most competitive guys in the locker room.
There was the added bonus Sunday of is firsthand knowledge of the Giants’ offense having played there for the past eight seasons.
Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly said Blackburn would regularly decipher Manning’s audible calls during the game and alert his teammates to the new play calls.
“He knew all of the plays,” Kuechly said. “He knew what they were doing.”
Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said he liked Blackburn’s impact in his first start for Carolina.
Blackburn hadn’t played a down on defense for the Panthers in the first two games, seeing his only action on special teams.
“He’s a great leader and I was impressed with how he played,” McDermott said. “Energy to the team was exciting and I’m sure it was a big day for Chase and we’re glad he was able to experience that. Moving forward it will always be the best player for the best situation.”