“I don’t read the papers, but they might say we’re the worst line in the league,” Tyler said Monday. “I would appreciate them saying that, because I’m always out to prove somebody wrong.”
While Tyler won’t have much to do with silencing skeptics wondering where all the sacks will come from now that Peppers is in Chicago, the defensive tackle will help determine if the Panthers can stop the run after Maake Kemoeatu and Damione Lewis were released in the offseason.
Tyler thinks he couldn’t be in a better place. After asking for and getting -- a trade from Kansas City last season, the Fayetteville, N.C., native and N.C. State product claims he’s recovered from knee surgery and ready to shine for his home state team.
“I’m feeling great,” said Tyler, who on Monday was cleared to begin practicing twice a day. “I’m glad to be a part of this defense. It’s a high-intensity defense. There’s a lot of enthusiasm and lot of passion for defense, period.”
While Charles Johnson and Everette Brown figure to split time at Peppers’ old position at end, the tackle spots are far from settled. Just how many questions the Panthers have were on display on Monday morning, when the coaching staff experimented with numerous lineups.
Tyler and veteran Ed Johnson had been taking the majority of the snaps at defensive tackle with the first team. But they were shuffled off to mostly second-team work in the morning workout, with Derek Landri and Louis Leonard working with the starters.
“It’s wide open because we don’t have any returning starters there. There’s competition there,” coach John Fox. “We’re learning them, they’re learning us. They’ll sort that out as we move forward.”
Added Tyler: “Until that first snap against the Giants (in Week 1), you probably won’t even know who’s starting.”
Tyler, though, thinks he has a good shot after an up-and-down start to his pro career.
A first-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference selection as a senior with the Wolfpack, the 6-foot-2, 306-pound Tyler was as third-round pick of the Chiefs. After playing little as a rookie, he started all 16 games in 2008, recording 41 tackles.
But the Chiefs changed coaches and switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense before last season. Tyler was miscast as a nose guard and soon lost his job. He was rarely playing, and getting frustrated.
“I guess I wasn’t the fit they were looking for, obviously,” Tyler said. “But I felt like I played well. They were some great coaches, so all respect to them. It was just time for a change.”
Tyler claimed he asked to be traded on Oct. 20. Late that night, the injury-depleted Panthers acquired him for a fifth-round pick in this year’s draft.
“I was going back home,” he said. “I was more than happy.”
The Panthers had been going through numerous tackles since
Kemoeatu went down with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon on the first day of camp last year. Tyler helped in a reserve role for six games until he, too, was sidelined with a right knee injury that he said required microfracture surgery.
“It was a minor setback last year but it made me a stronger man going through that,” Tyler said. “Some people feel like they’re untouchable on the field. When stuff like that happens and you overcome it, you get stronger. It’s something that needed to take place, maybe.”
When Kemoeatu and Lewis were released, general manager Marty Hurney spoke of the depth of young talent at defensive tackle. The 25-year-old Tyler is part of a group with little experience and plenty of questions.
“Every year in training camp you have to fight for a position,” Tyler said. “That’s what we’re all doing right now, fighting for the starting spot and fighting to make it a great defensive line when we’re out there.”