Ealy may have won the job, anyway. He started the first two preseason games at right end. Alexander started on the left side, considered his more natural position, for the injured Johnson (calf).
But Alexander’s injury sealed it. Ealy will be the every-down end opposite the team’s No. 2 all-time sacks leader, assuming that is the direction the Panthers go.
And that appears to be the direction.
The 2014 second-round pick out of Missouri made great strides between the preseason opener at Buffalo and Saturday night.
He showed the versatility that Greg Hardy did on the right side in 2012 and 2013, moving to defensive tackle on third down. That allowed Carolina to bring in an additional pass-rusher, such as Mario Addison, at end.
Ealy had a sack and forced a fumble.
“They need me to be an all-down end, every position, that’s what I’m looking towards,’’ Ealy said. “Even before the injury, the opportunity was there. I hate injuries like that happening.
“But the next man has got to step up.’’
The Panthers also have the option of filling the right end spot by committee as they did last season with Wes Horton as the run stopper, Ealy and Addison as the pass-rushers.
All three looked good at times against Miami. Horton had a sack and forced fumble. Addison got decent pressure a couple of times.
But coach Ron Rivera’s goal was to have an every-down end like Hardy that could play outside and inside on the right side. Ealy is the only real option with Alexander out.
Once the Panthers get back Johnson, along with starting defensive tackles Kawann Short (back) and Star Lotulelei (foot), they’ll have a better idea of where they’re headed. Johnson and Short are expected to be ready for Friday’s third preseason game against New England.
The stress reaction Short had on his surgically-repaired foot will be re-evaluated again this week. The goal is to have him ready for the season opener.
Ealy looks forward to working with a full group of starters, something he hasn’t had during the preseason. Alexander is confident Ealy can do the job.
“Kony, man, he’s a good player,’’ Alexander said as he braced himself on crutches late Saturday night. “He pushed me and I pushed him. ... I wish all the guys the best, because I know they’re going to do it.’’