James Anderson has been the most overworked Panther for the last couple of years.
Football can be a game of attrition, and that part Anderson has beaten. Now a 7th year LB, Anderson has fairly low miles, starting only 10 games in his first four.
But, in the last two and a half years, he’s started 38 of 39 games and totaled a massive 2111 snaps in the last two years. In 2011, the only time he played less than 95% of a game was the Cardinals game, the only game that started both Jon Beason and Thomas Davis.
Most teams’ strongside linebackers play roughly 50% of the snaps – and are the most likely to go out of the game in nickel (on average, the third linebacker and third corner play about the same amount leaguewide). Over those two years, Anderson’s play has been very good – he had an incredible 2010 against the run; his 2011 was a bigger struggle (in coverage, a declining 111 QB rating) despite his team-record tackles (174).
Part of the good, and bad, came with the revolving door around him. His MLB in most of that span, Dan Connor, was himself very good for the first half of 2010 before getting hurt; he only had Beason at MLB for 8 games in 2010, and one in 2011 (Connor declined quickly under Ron Rivera). He played, and he was needed.
So, with a more stocked LB group this year, Anderson probably gets more rest. He may, or may not, come out of the game for nickel – I imagine that part becomes more clear over the next month – and there may be times he’s a good matchup for nickel, or times he’s not. It’s hard to say if they’ll use both Beason and Kuechly – a sizeable lineup for nickel – as the two remaining LB, if they’ll sub out Beason at times to keep him fresh post-injury, or if they’ll limit Kuechly’s snaps to not overwhelm – maybe neither ever happens. Maybe they occasionally sub in Thomas Davis when able, instead. Either way, there are various reasons to suggest that Anderson may tend toward a two-down LB at times.
I’ve suggested in the past that a 3-3 nickel alignment would be as good or better than the traditional 4-2; that would give more matchup and blitz looks, and go with the idea of a pro multiple defense that has already been acknowledged. But, so far that hasn’t been shown, limiting the chance of Anderson and the other two LB playing more (honestly, a 3-3 lends itself as much to one of the three LB being a rush guy like Antwan Applewhite as anything). LBs don’t get the rest that DL do, but hopefully having a good, athletic LB like Anderson for 80% of his usual snaps will bring his per-play abilities up a hair from last year, and keep a bit fresher legs over time. Since I anticipate Anderson will be blitzing more, it’ll be nice to have him fresh.