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Panthers to unveil new look ‘D’

By By MIKE CRANSTON, AP Sports Writer
SPARTANBURG, S.C. — When the Carolina Panthers opened training camp last year, rookie Jon Beason skipped workouts in a contract dispute, safety Chris Harris played for the Chicago Bears and Damione Lewis was a backup defensive tackle.
When the team took the field for Tuesday’s workout, the three players were clearly the leaders at their positions, barking instructions, encouraging teammates and leading drills.
After the retirement of veterans Mike Minter, Mike Rucker and Dan Morgan in the past 12 months, Beason, Harris and Lewis have become the faces of Carolina’s new-look, young defense.
The 23-year-old Beason overcame missing the first eight days of camp last year to set a team-record 160 tackles. Moving to middle linebacker after Morgan’s season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury, he quickly earned the respect of his teammates. His leadership role was cemented late in the season when coach John Fox asked him to give the pregame speech before a game against Dallas.
Beason responded with a stirring talk about his love for the game and the significance of facing the storied Cowboys.
The 25-year-old Harris, acquired for a fifth-round draft pick midway through training camp last year, led the NFL with eight forced fumbles while directing Carolina’s secondary. The safety was rewarded with a five-year, $13.3 million deal in the offseason. He came to camp intent on a larger role.
The 30-year-old Lewis, a former first-round pick of St. Louis, became a starter when the Panthers traded three-time Pro Bowl pick Kris Jenkins in February. Lewis, whose three sacks topped the dismal 2007 team, has clearly been the most vocal on the defensive line.
The transformation of the defense comes after the Panthers lost a combined 26 years of experience with the departures of Minter, Rucker and Morgan. Beason said it was clear they left a leadership void.
With a much younger lineup, Fox has simplified the defense, allowing players to act more on instinct.