Panthers edge rusher Haason Reddick out to prove he's no one-hit wonder

The Panthers hope Haason Reddick can build on his breakout 2020 season with the Cardinals, in which he recorded 12.5 sacks and six forced fumbles. Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- One by one, Haason Reddick watched the top edge rushers in free agency get long-term, big-money deals.

Bud Dupree (eight sacks in 2020) got a five-year, $82.5 million contract to move from Pittsburgh to Tennessee. Leonard Floyd (10.5) got four years, $64 million to remain with the Los Angeles Rams. Trey Hendrickson (13.5) got four years, $60 million to move from New Orleans to Cincinnati.

Reddick understood. Dupree and Floyd, specifically, had been producing in the category for longer and organizations were confident they would do it again. He didn’t burst onto the scene until 2020 when he had 12.5 sacks for Arizona after having only 7.5 the previous three seasons at inside linebacker.

So when the Carolina Panthers offered a one-year, $8 million, prove-it deal to reunite with former Temple coach Matt Rhule and defensive coordinator Phil Snow, Reddick didn’t feel slighted.

If anything, he felt motivated to again prove the naysayers wrong.

“Teams had concerns about last year, being as though it was my first year on the edge," Reddick said. “With the production I had, they want to see if I am the real deal or was last year just a fluke.’’

It wasn’t a fluke, according to Arizona defensive line coach Brentson Buckner. He said the Cardinals did an “injustice’’ in 2017 moving Reddick to inside linebacker after he was drafted 13th overall out of Temple, where he was an edge rusher for four years.

“Carolina got a jewel,’’ said Buckner, who played defensive tackle for Carolina from 2001-05. “He is hungry. He knew going into free agency people would say we want to see him do it again.

“He was like, ‘I'm always gonna bet on myself.' So you’re getting a hungry guy who's super-athletic, who's young, who’s still finding his way, but he’s on the right path."

Rutgers secondary coach Fran Brown -- who watched Reddick grow up in Camden, New Jersey, and coached him at Temple -- agreed.

“I definitely don’t think it was a fluke," said Brown, who was instrumental in keeping Reddick at Temple when Rhule arrived in 2013. “You don’t fluke 12.5 times. I mean, he’s a super freak. He’s like a little superhero."

‘He’s a weapon’

Buckner was part of a 2017 debate among Arizona coaches who moved Reddick to inside linebacker in an effort to get their best 11 players on the field.

When discussions began last year about where Reddick fit best, Buckner didn’t hesitate.

“I stood on the table and said, ‘Put him at outside linebacker,'" he said.

It was the right decision.

“I had tried inside linebacker, and that’s not me," Reddick said. “I wanted to make sure [in free agency] I was used as a pass-rusher. That’s what I do best. That’s where I’m most confident."

To Reddick’s credit, for three years he didn’t complain about the move inside. He was, as Buckner reminded, the “ultimate team player."

That’s one of the things that attracted Rhule to Reddick when he took over Temple in 2013 and inherited a 2012 walk-on who came in as a running back/safety. Reddick was a model of Rhule’s "process" that demanded total focus and love of the game.

“He’s everything that’s right with college football," Rhule told an Arizona radio station after Reddick was drafted.

Returning to the edge was an adjustment. Reddick had only two sacks in his first five games in 2020. Then came a two-sack performance against Dallas and another sack the next week against Seattle.

It all came together in a Dec. 13 game against the New York Giants when Reddick had five sacks and three forced fumbles.

“When you have a guy with that type of athleticism threatening on the edge, you put offensive tackles, tight ends and running backs in a bind," said Carolina defensive run-game coordinator Al Holcomb, who was Reddick’s defensive coordinator in Arizona in 2018.

Buckner compares Reddick to Denver's Von Miller (106 career sacks) and former Indianapolis Colt Robert Mathis (123 sacks) in that he can create havoc from any position on the edge.

He also compared Reddick to Arizona’s 2020 first-round pick, Isaiah Simmons, selected eighth overall as a hybrid linebacker/safety.

“He’s a weapon," Buckner said of Reddick. “The thing that people don’t understand, he can cover the slot and run with wide receivers. You’d think he was a cornerback if you didn’t know he was a linebacker."

3-4 or 4-3?

Buckner doesn’t hesitate to say Reddick is a better outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme than an end in a 4-3. He also doesn’t hesitate to say Reddick, who has muscled up to 245 pounds, can be destructive at both.

Brown saw it firsthand when Reddick was in high school and at Temple.

“He can go get the quarterback on third down, and he can trick you up and do a bunch of other stuff on first and second down,’’ he said. “Always a hell of an athlete. I’m talking super-duper athlete.

“He’ll be successful there. He’s with a good coach. Phil Snow understands him and will put him in positions to make plays."

Buckner said pairing Reddick with position-flexible players such as defensive end/outside linebacker Brian Burns, linebacker/safety Shaq Thompson and safety/linebacker Jeremy Chinn has the potential to be “special.’’

Said Reddick: “If we get together and we can mesh well, man, it could be a beautiful thing for this defense."

When asked if Snow has tipped his hand to whether Carolina would run more 4-3 or 3-4, Reddick said, “He was still working on it."

“One thing that I know about Snow is he's going to take the pieces that he has, and he's going to try to get them all on the field at the same time and create a bunch of mismatches,’’ said Reddick, who had 9.5 sacks and 22.5 quarterback pressures in his final season under Snow at Temple in 2016.

Reddick creates mismatches whether he’s at end or outside linebacker because of his speed. His 4.52 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the 2017 NFL combine was second-fastest among all linebackers and linemen.

“Once he gets to the offensive lineman, he gets to the edge, his burst from the edge to the quarterback has got to be the fastest in the league," Buckner said. “It’s like he’s skipping steps he’s so fast."

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Reddick’s get-off speed in 2020 was 0.85 seconds, which ranked 22nd among players with at least 300 pass-rush snaps. That helped him get 38 quarterback pressures, tied for 19th in the NFL and four more than he had his three previous seasons combined.

“A lot of things he did this past season were things he did in college," Holcomb said. “He’s kind of like a chess piece you can move around."

Reddick also plays with a chip as he has since arriving at Temple as a walk-on. Being in Carolina with a prove-it deal feels like the norm, even though it will cost the Panthers big-time if he has another big season.

That’s why when asked if he was excited to play the Giants again this season he said, “I'll be looking forward to playing everybody this year and create havoc and destruction."

That’s why he wasn’t concerned with all the big deals other edge rushers got.

“I never measure myself based off what another man has, or what another man has gotten," Reddick said. “I focus on myself. How can I be a better person? How can I be a better football player? ... I like where I’m at. And I know my time is coming."