NFL: Energetic Leman hopes to catch on with Panthers
SPARTANBURG, S.C. ó After a year out of football doing television work and voicing car commercials, Jeremy Leman is eager to make the most of his opportunity with the Panthers.
Sometimes too eager.
Leman went from being that unknown linebacker with the long hair flowing out the back of his helmet to the guy Carolina coach John Fox always seemed to be lecturing at training camp for being too physical in practice.
“I tend to err on the side of going too far, not on the side of caution,” Leman said.
His performance in Monday’s exhibition opener ó seven tackles, good ball pursuit and numerous energetic shrieks ó left the Panthers considering whether to put the loud longshot on the 53-man roster.
“He’s a tough guy. He likes to play the game. He plays it with the right attitude,” Fox said. “In game situations he played downhill and was very physical, so I liked what I saw.”
Leman, who prefers to be called J instead of Jeremy, is just happy for another chance. After leading Illinois in tackles two consecutive years, he went undrafted in 2008 and signed with Minnesota. The Vikings let him go in the final round of cuts.
Leman thought he would catch on somewhere, but his phone was silent. So he started doing commercials for car dealerships in Illinois. Then he joined the Big Ten Network, where he was an analyst on a football pregame show at the site of the biggest league game of the week.
“It worked out well, but it’s nothing like playing football,” Leman said.
He had one workout last season, but the New York Jets decided not to sign him, and Leman started to question himself.
“It’s like, man, nobody wants to pick me up right now,” Leman said. “Let’s be honest, it’s a test of faith.”
He remained on the Panthers’ list of prospects, however, and shortly after the season they brought him in for a physical and signed him. He quickly drew the attention of his teammates in offseason workouts.
“He’s a wild man,” said linebacker James Anderson. “He’s a guy that loves football, plays with great intensity. He’s headfirst to the ball. He’s a ball hawk always around the ball, and those are the kind of guys that make great linebackers.”
Leman still was deep down the depth chart when he reported to training camp, where he was best known for keeping his long hair despite the intense heat at Wofford College.
“It looks too cool coming out of the back of the helmet,” Leman explained.
Linebacker then became the position with the most injuries. While Jon Beason is back from a strained hamstring, Thomas Davis (knee) and Landon Johnson (groin) remain sidelined. Leman moved up the depth chart at outside linebacker, even practicing with the starters one day.
His enthusiasm has sometimes got him into trouble. Last week he got into a scuffle with DeCori Birmingham after bringing the running back to the turf in a non-contact drill. There were other too-aggressive moments that led Fox to order him to tone it down.
“It’s hard for me to sometimes to just go out there and wrap up people,” Leman said. “Then they ask you to turn it on and bring people to the ground on game day.”
Leman made his first game with Carolina memorable. Playing the entire second half of the 24-17 loss to the New York Giants, Leman was seemingly always around the ball. After bringing Danny Ware down for no gain in the third quarter, Leman scream and pointed to the crowd ó to no one in particular.
“I just get fired up every now and then,” he said, grinning.
The Panthers will likely carry six or seven linebackers. He’ll likely need to contribute on special teams, too.
“Football is fun, man. It’s a fun game,” he said.