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Panthers defensive getting offensive in preseason

By STEVE REED - AP Sports Writer
    2013-08-24 16:39

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott likes his unit's aggressive offensive-minded approach.

Now he just hopes it carries over to the regular season.

McDermott's vastly improved defense has produced 10 turnovers and scored four defensive touchdowns in three preseason games - three of those TD returns coming in a 34-27 win over the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night.

McDermott said the coaches have been placing added emphasis on creating turnovers this season - and apparently the players are listening.

``It's part of our philosophy that we lay out,'' McDermott said. ``We talked about it since the spring. The guys are doing a really good job with it and they take a lot of pride in it. I think that's the biggest part - they make it part of them and how they play. It's become a part of our DNA, so to speak.''

McDermott said he started to see that attitude develop within the defense late last season.

But he knows there is room for improvement.

Carolina forced only 23 turnovers in 2012 and scored only two defensive touchdowns while battling through an injury-plagued season. Now everyone is back and healthy, and McDermott said that's a huge help.

``Turnovers come in bunches. We just have to keep putting pressure on the opponent and keep attacking,'' McDermott said.

The Panthers look like a different defense since Luke Kuechly moved to middle linebacker five games into last season when Jon Beason went down with a season-ending injury.

Kuechly was all over the field against the Ravens, intercepting a pass and applying pressure on Joe Flacco that led to an interception that was returned for a touchdown. The NFL's leading tackler last season also raced through the line and forced a fumble that Thomas Davis picked up and ran 2 yards into the end zone for a touchdown.

``That's something that we practice, scooping and scoring,'' Davis said.

McDermott said Kuechly showed the mental toughness he wants when after having an interception waived off by a penalty on one play, came right back and got a pick on the next play.

``You are going to have your calls that don't go your way and you're going to be in tough situations where you have to play through it - and that's what we did,'' McDermott said.

Coach Ron Rivera said he couldn't be more impressed with Kuechly, who has become the defense's unquestioned leader.

``If he continues to grow, we'll most certainly be talking about him in the same way as those great linebackers,'' said Rivera, a former linebacker for the Chicago Bears who played with Mike Singletary.

Still Kuechly knows Carolina has areas they must improve upon.

Carolina's big defensive night overshadowed the fact the Ravens were able to take the opening kickoff and march down the field and score a touchdown against the Panthers.

``We need to start faster and at the beginning of the game and we have to get off the field on third down,'' Kuechly said.

With the defense scoring touchdowns in bunches, Rivera is hoping Cam Newton and the offense will follow suit and begin to get into the act. Carolina's first-team offense has managed just one touchdown this preseason and that came on a short field (16 yards) following a turnover.

Newton is confident that will come - and the Panthers won't have to rely solely on the defense for touchdowns.

``We know what we are capable of,'' Newton said about Carolina's offense. ``We're not showing everything we can at this point. I'm confident that everybody will play better, starting with me.''

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Online: AP NFL website www.pro32.ap.org

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Follow Steve Reed on Twitter: http://twitter.com/SteveReedAP

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