Kony Ealy has earned job as Panthers' right defensive end

AP Photo/Mike McCarn

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera stated that one of his goals entering training camp was to find an every-down defensive end to play opposite Charles Johnson.

Mission accomplished.

Rivera said on Sunday that Kony Ealy has proven worthy of being the every-down starter on the right side barring a major collapse in Thursday night’s preseason finale at Pittsburgh.

And he doesn’t anticipate that.

“He has taken the bull by the horns,’’ Rivera said of Ealy.

Ealy has done that by, in his words, “eating greedy.’’ The 2014 second-round pick out of Missouri has had a quarterback for lunch in each of the past two games after finishing last year with a sack in each of the last three games.

Despite that strong finish, Rivera had said Ealy was too inconsistent -- particularly against the run -- to be the every-down end he was looking for to replace Greg Hardy.

Hardy led Carolina in sacks in 2013 with 15. He also was versatile enough to stop the run on first and second down, and play end or tackle on passing situations.

The Panthers used a committee of Wes Horton, Mario Addison and Ealy to replace Hardy last season when the Pro Bowl end was on the commissioner’s exempt list dealing with his domestic violence issue.

Ealy began this preseason battling Frank Alexander for the every-down spot. Even before Alexander suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in the second preseason game, Ealy was the front-runner.

“He could have been very big,’’ Rivera said of the role Alexander could have played. “But I will say this, Kony has really stepped up.’’

Ealy, like Hardy, can move to tackle on pass-rushing situations. The Panthers often will bring in Addison, who had six sacks last season, at end and shift Ealy to the left side at tackle.

That allows the Panthers to pressure the quarterback with their front four -- Johnson, Ealy, Addison and tackle Kawann Short or Star Lotulelei -- instead of having to blitz so much.

That was key with Hardy in 2013 when Carolina led the league in sacks with 60.

Rivera hopes Ealy can help recreate that.

“I’m pleased with his development,’’ Rivera said. “He’s done that the last two weeks.’’