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Panthers mailbag: Could Kony Ealy be a factor with Star Lotulelei out?

The weather in Seattle is significantly warmer than Charlotte after an arctic blast hit the Carolinas, and it's about to heat up more here when the Carolina Panthers and defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks kick off at 8:15 p.m. ET.

But before we get to that, let's take care of a few of your questions in my Saturday mailbag:

@DNewtonESPN: You're spot on with Kony Ealy getting more time at defensive tackle with Star Lotulelei out. One of the reasons the Panthers drafted the defensive end out of Missouri in the second round was because of his ability to play inside and out, much like Greg Hardy did. He's been doing that a lot more the latter half of the season, particularly when Carolina lines up the four best pass-rushers in what they call their "NASCAR" scheme. Colin Cole will be used as the run stopper, but look for Ealy to be a factor.

@DNewtonESPN: To me, the bigger loss of the two is Philly Brown if he's unable to play. The Panthers have good depth on the line and can replace Lotulelei. They don't have another speed guy like Brown who can blow the top off of defenses. Coach Ron Rivera talked about bringing speedster Stephen Hill up from the practice squad, but that would be a quick turnaround to get him ready for everything involved in facing the league's best defense.

@DNewtonESPN: That's easy. Jordan Gross. The Panthers were unsettled on the offensive line the first half of the season. Having a veteran like Gross as an anchor at left tackle would have been beneficial for the Panthers in terms of production and leadership had he not retired and lost a gazillion pounds to look more like a tight end.

@DNewtonESPN: The noise will impact everyone on Carolina's offense. It'll be more of an issue for the offensive line than Cam Newton. That the Panthers have run a lot of no-huddle the second half of the season should help. They go on a silent snap and use a lot of hand signals out of that. The key will be getting off to a fast start to keep the crowd from registering on a seismograph.

@DNewtonESPN: Interesting you ask that. Rivera said earlier this week that Frank Alexander would be in the team's plans for 2015. He didn't mention Greg Hardy, and I can't blame him. Even if Hardy is not found guilty of his domestic violence charge, there's been so much negativity around the case that I believe the Panthers would take a pass in free agency. And there are no guarantees of when his case will be heard. It could be six months or longer from now. Rivera doesn't want or need that type of distraction hanging over the offseason and possibly preseason.

@DNewtonESPN: Never say never, but it wouldn't surprise me if DeAngelo Williams was a June 1 cut. He'll be 32 in 2015, and that is old in running back years even if he still has something left in the tank. They like what Fozzy Whittaker brings to the table as a backup, and I'm sure they want to start developing a young back for the future.

@DNewtonESPN: I hate to sound like a cop-out on this, but I'll go with both. They've made a good team, which is unusual for a general manager when he walks into a situation where the staff isn't what he handpicked. Dave Gettleman has gotten the cap situation under control and made good personnel decisions. But Rivera has held things together when they looked most dire, turning around last season after a 1-3 start and this season after a 3-8-1 start. He's definitely a players' coach and the players here appear to love him.