It happens at the start of all 32 NFL training camps every year. Players say all sorts of things about how “this team is the best I’ve been on,” etc.
But few go as far as Mario Addison did last summer.
“We're going all the way, man,” the Carolina Panthers defensive end said as his teammates were reporting to Spartanburg for training camp. “We've got all the tools. All we've got to do is put it together, and I see a Super Bowl. I feel it.”
The Panthers were coming off back-to-back NFC South titles, but a Super Bowl prediction in July was a bit out there.
Yet six months later, Addison’s feeling turned into reality.
“I heard a lot of guys saying, ‘That's a crazy accusation,’” he recalled recently. “But when we did go, I was like, ‘Yeah man, I felt it.’”
Heading into his fifth season in Carolina, Addison seems to be the forgotten man of the Panthers’ pass rush. As the preseason opener in Baltimore showed, there are legitimate concerns about depth at defensive end. Charles Johnson and Kony Ealy are locked in as starters, but the worry is who’s behind them.
When asked about the position this spring, the Panthers answered with names like Rakim Cox, Ryan Delaire and Arthur Miley. Now a back issue is threatening Cox’s season, and Delaire and Miley are still very much in the development stage.
The hand-wringing often glosses over Addison, though.
That's understandable in a way. He’s started just three games since coming to Carolina in 2012, and guys who come off the bench don’t often get the glory. But over the past two regular seasons, Addison’s led the Panthers with 12.5 sacks, while starters Johnson and Ealy have gone for 9.5 and 9.0, respectively.
“Everybody wants to start at some time in their career, but I got to the point where I've accepted it,” Addison said. “I've been killing it when I do come in. I'm a playmaker. I don't have to start to make plays.
“When I do get in there, I can do better than when people start. So it really doesn't matter when I get in there, it's what I do when I get in.”
Whether it was the departure of Greg Hardy or Johnson’s temporary trip to injured reserve, Addison was never in the running when the Panthers were scrambling for starting replacements the past couple years. At 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, he’s too slight to be a full-timer. Addison used to try to gain weight, but it never stuck. And that was OK with coaches, who wanted the speed rusher to have fresh legs when he came in on third downs.
“Instead of telling him what he's not, we try and make sure he understands how important his role is,” defensive line coach Eric Washington said.
“We have some guys that will go out there and play on first and second down, but when Mario comes into the football game, that's the most important snap of the game. He’s a guy that can win as a 1-on-1 pass rusher against a starting left tackle in the NFL. That's important.”
After suffering a slightly separated shoulder in Week 7 last year, Addison was one of a handful of Panthers who underwent offseason shoulder surgery. He’s now back at 100 percent and feeling just as confident in his team as he was last summer.
“I feel as though we can repeat, we can do the same things last year,” Addison said, before echoing coach Ron Rivera’s post-Super Bowl mantra. “But I know that we've got to build from the ground up. We can't worry about last year because last year's team isn't playing this year.”
That’s fair, but does that mean you’re making another Super Bowl prediction?
“I've got faith in my team. If we pull together, we can do whatever we want to do,” Addison said.
“I’m just going to leave that there.”