CHARLOTTE – Carolina Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy quickly has adjusted to one aspect of being an NFL rookie: The off-the-field rituals.
Veteran Charles Johnson whistled Ealy over after Wednesday’s workouts, handing the rookie his helmet to carry the quarter-mile walk from the Panthers’ practice field to the locker room.
“Everybody has got to go through it,” Ealy said.
Carolina’s coaching staff hopes that Ealy – a second-round pick – adjusts just as quickly to his on-the-field responsibilities.
“We’re getting real deep into the playbook,” Ealy said. “So it’s a matter of balancing everything up, between knowing what to do when you’re in the classroom and when you transition on to the field.”
Ealy spent most of Wednesday’s scrimmage time working with the first-team defense at defensive end. However, with Johnson and Greg Hardy, who combined for 26 sacks last season, returning this season, Ealy might find himself playing at other positions, including inside at one of the tackle spots, or even dropping back into pass coverage.
“He is one of those guys that can play multiple positions,” Carolina head coach Ron Rivera said. “We’re going to look at some of those things as we get further along in OTAs and mini-camp. Probably in the next couple of weeks, we’ll do some of those things with Kony to see exactly what he can and can’t do.
“Kony’s an exciting young man. He’s got something to him, something to the way he plays,” he coach added. “He’s one of those guys that’s showing that he’s starting to get what we’re doing. That’s important, because the quicker these guys get up to speed, the faster they’ll play.”
While Ealy knows he has the athleticism to play multiple positions in the NFL –in three years at Missouri, he had 93 tackles and 14 sacks, and even returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown – he said that at this level, there’s more to the game than athleticism.
“I’ve got all the athleticism in the world, and my coaches praise it,” Ealy said. “But they tell me to focus more on my technique. They tell me to look at the guys in front of me, the guys who have been here. Focus on what they do, detail what they do.
“It’s a blessing the coaches know I have that type of ability in me, so they’re giving me the opportunity to do so.”
Ealy also has another reason to make the adjustment.
After earning all-Southeastern Conference honors his junior season, recording 9.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss, Ealy originally was projected to be a first-round pick. But he dropped, with Carolina eventually grabbing him with the 60th overall pick.
While Ealy was disappointed about not going in the first round, it also has served to put an edge on his game during the Panthers’ workouts.
“Regardless of whether I went first (round) or wherever, it doesn’t change my expectation levels or people’s expectations for me,” Ealy said. “I’ve still got a job to do, just like the next man. In the NFL, they make it very clear: They don’t care what round you went in and all that. It’s a whole different level. You’ve got to work, and that’s what I’m doing.
“I didn’t expect to fall that far, but I use it as motivation - every team that passed me up, there’s a target on their backs.”