NFL: Panthers’ Beason becomes defensive leader

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 6, 2009

By Mike Cranston
Associated Press
CHARLOTTE ó Jon Beason is ahead of schedule. Again.
Whether it’s reading a play, getting to the ball carrier, racking up records or winning awards, the Carolina Panthers linebacker does things before people expect them to happen.
Now, armed with his first Pro Bowl selection, Beason will play in his first playoff game Saturday when the Panthers (12-4) face Arizona (10-7) in the NFC divisional round. It’s another milestone for the speedy, instinctive and quietly confident Beason, who in 32 games has established himself as one of the NFL’s top linebackers.
“When you plan for it, it’s easy when it does happen,” Beason said Tuesday of his whirlwind two years. “You don’t have to pinch yourself as much, even though I have quite a bit.”
When the Panthers selected the 6-foot, 237-pound Miami product with the 25th pick in the 2007 draft, they envisioned him as Dan Morgan’s eventual replacement at middle linebacker.
Beason started training camp as an outside linebacker and started there in the first four games. But when the oft-injured Morgan went down again with an Achilles’ tendon injury, Beason took over in the middle.
Suddenly, he was the defensive signal caller. But that was about all he said on the field, even as he made a team-record 160 tackles.
“Going into Miami and obviously coming into the NFL, it’s about earning respect as a young guy,” Beason said. “You haven’t done anything so you shouldn’t say anything.
“That’s really what it was last year. Just come in, doing your job, being a pro, being accountable and playing hard and the veterans are going to respect that. Once you have their respect, you are a leader.”
After an offseason that saw defensive tackle Kris Jenkins traded to the New York Jets and defensive end Mike Rucker retire, it was time for Beason to become vocal in a new-look defense built to be speedy and strong, two of his traits.
“The No. 1 way to earn respect is with your play,” safety Chris Harris said. “He shows up every week and gives it his all. Guys respect that, so it’s not hard to listen to a guy who puts it on the line every time he steps on the field.”
Beason finished one tackle shy of last year’s record this season, good enough to be voted to the Pro Bowl. He was also honored as the NFC defensive player of the month for October.
One of his three interceptions came near the goal line and with Carolina clinging to a 24-23 lead early in the fourth quarter of the regular-season meeting with the Cardinals. The Panthers won 27-23.
“It’s evident to me that he studies a lot of tape, because he knows what’s going on and he reacts to it well,” Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “We voted for him for the Pro Bowl and I think he’s very deserving of that.”