Carolina DT Kawann Short presents big challenge for Arizona
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Josh Noman has some advice for Carson Palmer if he sees Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kawann "KK" Short heading his way on Sunday in the NFC championship game.
"Run," the Panthers All-Pro cornerback said with a hearty laugh. "Run, run as fast as you can, I'm the Gingerbread Man."
Norman has seen Short blossom into a dominant inside pass rusher in just his third season with the Panthers, recording 11 sacks — a franchise record for a defensive tackle — along with 32 quarterback pressures.
The 6-foot-3, 315-pound Short carried that momentum over to the playoffs last week, pressuring Seattle's Russell Wilson into throwing a first quarter interception that was returned for a touchdown by Luke Kuechly, giving Carolina an early 14-0 lead and setting the tone for the game.
He also had a sack on Wilson.
"That play was all KK," Kuechly said of the pick six. "When you look at the play if you really break it down it was him. He made a move on the guard and just like that he was on Russell. Really I was just kind of standing there and he tossed it right to me. I give KK all the credit because he deserved it all."
When general manager Dave Gettleman arrived in Carolina in 2013, he spent his first two draft picks on "hog mollies" — selecting a pair of mammoth defensive tackles in space eater Star Lotulelei in the first round, followed by the pass-rushing specialist Short in the second.
They have become fixtures on a defense that has ranked in the top 10 in each of the past three seasons and forced a league-high 39 turnovers in the regular season.
"He and Star form a really good tandem inside," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "Star seems to do a lot of the dirty work, a lot of the physical work, and KK is explosive and a pass rusher."
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Lotulelei and Short are the best pair of defensive tackles Arizona has seen all season.
"The linebackers are great," Arians said, "but they (the tackles) help make them great."
Short became the first Carolina player to win NFC Defensive Player of the Month twice in the same season and was named second-team All-Pro.
"I have been paying attention to details, studying the game," Short said. "I took all of these pieces of advice from other people, put them in the bucket, and now I'm using it."
Short's quickness is his forte.
He plays the three technique on defense, the same position Warren Sapp played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Like Sapp, Short has a quick burst off the line which allows him to get by slower offensive linemen, particularly when not double-teamed.
"That's the most important thing for a 3-tech, that first step," Short said. "You have to get off fast."
Norman said he didn't realize how athletic Short was until they participated in a pickup basketball game. When he saw the big man make a spin move and drive to the basket and dunk the ball he was utterly amazed.
"I've tried to guard him and he gets the best of me," Norman said. "... So now, every time I play with him I pick him on my team. He's my No. 1 draft pick."
Norman said given that quickness it's easy to see why Short has excelled on the football field.
"His focus, his work ethic and his massive size — can't nobody block him," Norman said. "It's like playing a linebacker on the defensive line, except that he's 320 pounds. It's crazy."
Said Kuechly: "He's really grown. But if you look back at his rookie season, he had all the capabilities and all the skills. I think now he's got a couple more that he's learned from (coaches) — those moves and techniques and effort and stuff like that — has really allowed him to take the next step forward."
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