HAMNIK.COLUMN: Kawann Short feeling the love of his Carolina brothers

2014-02-15T17:15:00Z 2014-02-17T19:40:17Z HAMNIK.COLUMN: Kawann Short feeling the love of his Carolina brothersAl Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
February 15, 2014 5:15 pm  • 

EAST CHICAGO | Second-round pick of the Carolina Panthers, productive backup at defensive tackle, a Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie selection.

Otherwise, not much has changed about East Chicago native Kawann Short, that big teddy bear with the infectious smile and firm handshake.

Pro football needs more law-abiding straight shooters like Short, whose goal in life is to become the best D-tackle to have played the game.

Fortunately for him, he's on a young team where defense is as important as church on Sunday.

It's been a crazy postseason with Missouri linebacker Michael Sam's announcement he's gay sending shockwaves through the league as the draft draws nearer, and the racially-charged Miami Dolphins' bullying scandal making daily headlines.

Short was honored Friday, sort of a homecoming, at East Chicago's 151st Street Recreation Center. Looking somewhat bewildered, he never saw these latest NFL developments coming and could only shake his head.

There was no rookie hazing by Carolina players, who were more focused on team success in 2013.

"We didn't need to sing the fight song," said the 6-foot-3, 310-pound Short. "We just had to pick a song we felt comfortable with and sing it in front of the team but that was it. No hazing. Nobody tellin' you to do anything.

"I felt the organization welcomed us home and the guys in the locker room welcomed us as brothers."

The song that Short chose?

"An old Usher song -- 'Nice and Slow'. It was just a funny moment," Short said. "I got booed. I wasn't the best. Some guys who went before me could sing, so that made it way worse than what it was."

Teddy Pendergrass he ain't, and that's OK.

No. 99 has a definite future in the NFL.

"It was a success," Short said of his first season. "I felt I fit in the role they wanted me in -- giving the Panthers that spark. They sat me down before the draft and asked do I want to be a Carolina Panther and what would I do, how would I contribute?"

Carolina started out 1-3, which put coach Ron Rivera on the hot seat, then won 11 of its last 12 before falling to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC playoffs, 23-10.

That earned Rivera a contract extension and AP coach of the year honors.

"We had faith in him, no matter what," Short said.

That defense, mercy, it's only going to get better.

Rookie tackle Star Lotulelei was in on 60 percent of Carolina's defensive snaps.

Short was on the field for 51 percent and was at his best as an interior pass rusher with 21 quarterback hurries -- second highest on the team.

Tackle Dwan Edwards figured heavily in Carolina having the No. 2 run defense at 86.9 yards per game.

Linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis had 176 and 151 total tackles, respectively. That is no misprint.

Defensive end Greg Hardy led with 15 quarterback sacks and partner Charles Johnson had 11.

It's a young defense, hungry as wolves in the wild.

"When we started the OTAs (optional training activities), you saw the camaraderie these guys had," Short recalled. "You saw their work ethic. It was to our benefit as rookies to come in, establish our names, and get a good thing going with these guys.

"When we got to camp, we felt we could be the best defense -- ever."

Hold that thought. There's still plenty of time.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

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