By STEVE REED
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Steve Wilks doesn’t expect the Panthers defensive scheme to change much now that he’s in charge.
Wilks was promoted to defensive coordinator on Friday and has been a major part in the construction of the Carolina defense, which he said will continue to run a 4-3 scheme “with a few wrinkles.”
“When you look at our scheme, we aren’t going to change much,” Wilks said. “The one thing I believe in is it’s not about trying to out-scheme your opponent, it’s about trying to out-play them. And we are going to continue to emphasize and focus on the fundamentals of the game. We are going to put a quality product on the field that is going to out-play the opposing offense.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera announced Friday that Wilks will replace Sean McDermott, who left to become the head coach of the Buffalo Bills . Wilks has served the last five seasons as the Panthers defensive backs coach and was given the tag of assistant head coach in 2015.
Wilks said there will be added emphasis on running to the football, tackling, stopping the run and forcing turnovers. The Panthers were first in the league in takeaways in 2015 when they went 17-2 and reached the Super Bowl, but those numbers dropped off last year.
A Charlotte native who began his coaching career at Johnson C. Smith, Wilks last worked as a defensive coordinator for East Tennessee State in 2002. He has spent time exclusively as a defensive backs coach since joining the NFL with the Chicago Bears in 2006.
Under McDermott, the Panthers finished in the top 10 in defense from 2012-15, but slipped this past year to 21st in overall following the departure of All-Pro cornerback JOSH NORMAN. Still, Carolina rallied to finish second in the league in sacks with 47 and sixth against the run.
“Our goal is to get back into the top five, the top 10″ in defense,” Wilks said.
Wilks said the team’s defensive leader, middle linebacker LUKE KUECHLY, will be “ready to go” in the spring when the Panthers report for OTAs. The three-time All-Pro and 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year has missed nine games the last two seasons with concussions. He didn’t play in the final three games in 2016 even after being cleared to play by independent doctors.
Outside linebacker THOMAS DAVIS is also expected to return for Carolina, giving the Panthers their core of their defense back.
“I don’t anticipate us missing a beat on defense,” Wilks said.
Wilks expects the rest of the Panthers defensive staff will remain intact.
There were reports linebackers coach Al Holcomb might join McDermott as defensive coordinator with the Bills, but Wilks said Holcomb informed him he is staying in Carolina to coach the linebackers. He said the Panthers are still looking for a new defensive backs coach to take his old job.
Wilks is well respected within the organization.
He helped turn Norman into an All-Pro cornerback before signing last offseason with the Washington Redskins..
He was instrumental last season in the development of rookies James Bradberry and DARYL WORLEY, who both became solid and reliable starters as the season progressed. There were some growing pains along the way though, with the Panthers allowing divisional foes DREW BREES and MATT RYAN to throw for a combined 968 yards and eight touchdowns in a span of three weeks early in the season.
“Whether you’re a veteran in the league or a rookie,” Wilks said, “it’s about going back to your base fundamentals and technique and that’s what we’re doing right now in mapping out a plan for the spring.”
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