Back in April, the Carolina Panthers selected linebacker Jon Beason in the first round of the NFL Draft with the 25th pick overall. At the time, little did he or the Panthers organization know that they would need him to fill some very big shoes in their defense just months after he had arrived at the team's facilities for the very first time.
A highly-heralded junior at the University of Miami, Beason was clearly selected to be the heir-apparent to middle linebacker Dan Morgan, who surprised many observers when he returned this season after being placed on injured reserve last year with at least his fifth concussion of his career.
Despite a brief holdout over contract terms, Beason immediately proved his value to the team after signing a five-year deal, earning a starter's role at weakside linebacker alongside Morgan.
But Morgan continued to have health problems. He missed two preseason games reportedly due to his concussion problems, and then he was sidelined by Week 5 with an ankle injury. Beason moved over to the middle for his first start at his natural position.
Morgan's injury turned out to be more serious than initially thought. He had an Achilles' injury that landed him on the injured reserve list this week, ending his season and locking Beason in as the team's middle linebacker for the rest of 2007 -- and possibly for good.
During his first eight professional starts, Beason has already been credited with a team-leading 58 tackles, a fumble recovery, and three passes defensed. After Morgan was placed on injured reserve this week, Beason talked to me about his rookie experience and taking over the reins at middle linebacker this year in this exclusive Scout.com interview.
Thompson: You've certainly been on the fast-track as a rookie. What's the experience been like for you personally?
Beason: After the holdout, I was just anxious to get in and get started. I was happy and was just trying to learn the defense. I ended up earning a starting job at weakside linebacker, and lo and behold Dan Morgan got hurt and I had to make a real big transition to middle linebacker.
Thompson: Talk about that transition. How difficult has it been for you?
Beason: I've only been playing linebacker for a short time. At Miami, I came in as a safety. Making the transition was big because I had never played the position at this level. I was fortunate that I'd been paying attention and watching Dan. The coaches had told me they probably wanted me to move into that position later on.
Thompson: Do you feel middle linebacker is the best fit for your skill set?
Beason: I didn't know how it was going to work out. I was just going to try and put my best foot forward and see how things went. But the last three games or so I've been playing well and I think that's a good spot for me.
Thompson: How active will Dan be in giving you guidance and teaching you more about being successful at that position?
Beason: I think Dan and I will sit down and watch tape together as he goes through his rehab process. I bought a house close to him, so we're good friends. We hang out all the time already, so we'll just keep moving along.
Thompson: What has he shared with you already that has been really valuable to your development?
Beason: Dan is a big instinct guy. He's very athletic and very fast. He's shown me how to set people up, because you can't use the same moves all the time. Veterans in this league are just too good and make adjustments quickly. So from that standpoint, he keeps me on my toes and makes sure I'm changing up my moves.
Jon Beason and Julius Peppers converge on Peyton Manning as he throws.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Thompson: Two weeks ago against the Colts, you put a pretty good hit on Peyton Manning...
Beason: It was crazy. I couldn't believe it -- standing over top of him right afterwards -- that I had just hit Peyton Manning. He's a special guy, a great, great player and competitor. He always has that intense look on his face, and you don't really see him smile during the game. It was a lot of fun to go out and play against the Colts. Obviously, I wish things had gone a little better on our end, but in that first half we played flawless football. And in the second half a lot of it was on us.
Thompson: What was it like going up against Titans quarterback Vince Young for the first time last weekend?
Beason: Going into the game I was excited about it because I've always wanted the opportunity to play against him when he was in college at Texas. I think he's a special guy. He can run or throw it, and I've never seen a guy that big move that fast.
Thompson: You've got the Atlanta Falcons this weekend. Are they an opponent who might be easy to overlook?
Beason: Not at all. I think the game we played against them earlier this year wasn't a pretty victory for us. We had a lot of personal foul calls that helped us out down the stretch, but they came out and they played hard. At the time, they hadn't won a game so the effort was there. We know they're going to come in here all riled up on Sunday, so I'm sure we'll look at this as a must-win game.
Thompson: What's the biggest challenge Atlanta brings to the table from your perspective at middle linebacker?
Beason: Warrick Dunn, even though he's getting older, he's shifty. I used to be a Florida State fan and he's a great player. They can do a lot of different things with Alge Crumpler at tight end. He was a pain to cover last time we played. They can really do some things on offense to keep you on your toes and I think their defense is fast and aggressive, so we really have to come with it this weekend if we expect to win.
Thompson: Anything else you'd like to say before we wrap up this interview?
Beason: Just tell the fans I'm still learning, trying and fighting. Don't give up on this team, we're right there in the hunt and it's just halftime.