He’s new to Carolina Panthers, but this free-agent LB isn’t new to this defense

Free-agent acquisitions often need time to adjust to their new environments. This is typically due to having new teammates to meet, a new system to learn, a new coaching staff to impress, and new trust to earn.

However, Josey Jewell is an exception. The inside linebacker, whom the Panthers signed in free agency this past offseason, has seamlessly integrated into his new team as their offseason program progresses. Jewell, a seasoned veteran, has already gained the trust of defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, and vice versa.

“I love coming back to this type of defense,” Jewell told reporters on Wednesday. “With Coach E and (inside linebackers coach) Pete Hansen and some other guys, it’s been awesome. These last couple of weeks have been great to get to know the guys, feel each other out, communicate, and understand where everyone is going to be. It’s been very valuable for us.”

Jewell and Evero’s mutual trust isn’t surprising. The two previously worked together in 2022 when Evero was the defensive coordinator in Denver, where Jewell spent his first six NFL seasons. During that season, Jewell had a career year with 128 tackles (a career-high), 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and two interceptions.

Jewell’s impressive performance was partly due to Evero’s 3-4 system, which requires the inside linebackers to handle multiple responsibilities such as clogging running lanes, dropping into coverage, and occasionally blitzing the quarterback. This system allowed Frankie Luvu to shine in 2023, leading to a successful defense and earning Luvu a lucrative contract with the Commanders in free agency.

The Evero-Jewell partnership has proven effective before, and Jewell is confident in his familiarity with the system. “I’ve already come into a bunch of new things,” said Jewell, who played college football at Iowa. “New players to play with, new people upstairs. So, having familiarity with some of the coaching staff is amazing for me, and picking up the old lingo from Denver gives me a step up. For me, familiarity is big, and it helps me feel comfortable and take big steps forward.”

Jewell, 29, signed a three-year, $22.75 million deal and is expected to start at inside linebacker alongside veteran Shaq Thompson, who is 30. Thompson, who missed most of last season due to an ankle injury, has impressed Jewell with his football knowledge and veteran presence. The inside linebackers are responsible for organizing the defense and communicating across the field, and the Panthers benefit from having experienced players like Jewell and Thompson.

Jewell and Thompson will lead a linebacker group that includes two 2024 Panthers draft picks — Trevin Wallace (third round) and Michael Barrett (seventh round) — and a defense with many new faces in 2024, several of whom, like Jewell, have worked with Evero before. This list includes defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson, 29, and safety Jordan Fuller, 26.

When asked about the offense on Wednesday, Jewell mentioned that while it’s challenging to evaluate an offense outside of game situations, certain indicators, such as the speed at which they get the ball out and the types of plays they run, can provide insights. The same goes for the defense and its players. Evero and his staff have a clear understanding of what to expect from Jewell, who shares the same clarity about his role and expectations.

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