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Mario Addison may be best pass-rusher on a Panthers roster that includes Julius Peppers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Mario Addison went into a long, humorous narrative on who he is earlier this month when meeting with reporters for the first time during training camp.

“Good afternoon. My name is Mario Addison,’’ the Carolina Panthers defensive end began. “I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. There was five of us. I’m the middle child. Only one dark-skinned. My momma, she loves me a lot. My sister, she loves me too. My brother, he loves me sometimes. My other brother, I don’t think he loves me that much.

“So I’ve got to say to you guys, thank you for having me. Keep pounding.’’

Addison should need no introduction, but he does.

He sometimes is the forgotten man on a defense that includes the team’s No. 1 and No. 2 all-time sack leaders, Julius Peppers (81) and Charles Johnson (67.5).

Addison shouldn’t be forgotten. He is arguably the best pass-rusher on the team.

Peppers, 37, and Johnson, 31, are nearing the end of their careers, which has something to do with their successful track records. But Addison isn’t a spring chicken, either. He turns 30 in September.

He's just coming into his prime as a pass-rusher. He led the Panthers in sacks with 9.5 last season.

“This guy has yet to tap his full potential,’’ defensive line coach Eric Washington said. “That’s what’s so exciting about it. He has improved every single year. And when you come out now, starting in the spring, you see something a little sharper, a little crisper ... his rush angle, his use of hands, his understanding of how to attack protections.

“The arrow is definitely pointing up.’’

Over the past three seasons, Addison has 22 of his career 25.5 sacks. During that span, he has 2.5 fewer sacks than Peppers and 8.5 more than Johnson. Peppers is ranked fifth on the NFL’s all-time sack list with 143.5.

Considering Peppers was primarily an every-down player with the Green Bay Packers during that span and Addison was primarily a role player, coming in mostly on pass situations, the numbers are impressive.

But Addison isn’t looking for bragging rights in terms of who will lead the team in sacks. Asked to name the best pass-rusher, he gave the diplomatic answer.

“All of us,’’ he said. “Hey, when we come together, man, it’s one heartbeat. All of us are awesome pass-rushers. We’re going to get the job done.’’

Pressed to pick one player, Addison stuck to diplomacy.

“You know, those guys are great pass-rushers,’’ he said. “One day, I want to be a great pass-rusher like those guys.’’

Washington wouldn’t touch the question, either, saying how well the ends do depends on the inside push created by defensive tackles Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei.

“I know one thing,’’ he said. “It’s a heck of a group, and they’ll complement each other extremely well. ... I’m excited about it.’’

The focus is on Carolina pressuring the quarterback, not who gets the most sacks.

“Hey, man, it’s going to be eat greedy, especially with the talent we’ve got on there,’’ Johnson said. “We’ve just got to make sure we put it all together. We don’t want to waste this year with all the talent on the line.’’

Addison may be the overlooked end publicly because of Peppers and Johnson, but he’s not overlooked by the Panthers. The organization thought enough of him that it traded Kony Ealy to New England, which recently released the 2014 second-round pick.

The Panthers then rewarded Addison with a three-year, $22.5 million deal ($7.5 million a year) to ensure he wouldn’t hit free agency.

Peppers signed a one-year deal for $3.5 million to return to Carolina, where he spent his first eight seasons. Johnson’s average is $4 million over the next two seasons.

So in terms of money, the Panthers paid Addison as though he is their top pass-rusher. They’ve also started him opposite Johnson the past two preseason games, which is more of a nod to how much Addison has improved as an every-down end than a knock on Peppers.

“Right now, he’s going out first,’’ Washington said of Addison being the starter. “That’s a fluid situation. We want to make sure we’re utilizing him the best way possible. We continue to evaluate that on a week-to-week basis.’’

In reality, the Panthers will go with a four-man rotation as they have the past few years. But Washington doesn’t hesitate to say Addison can be an every-down end, something nobody said before last season.

“That’s what we plan on,’’ Washington said. “We’ll still utilize our rotation, but in terms of him playing in every situation, we don’t see a limitation.’’

There are no statistical indicators to say Addison absolutely will lead the team in sacks. There’s also no way to say Peppers won’t be that guy, but the odds aren’t great.

According to Elias, in the last 10 seasons, a player 35 or older has led his team in sacks only six times. Peppers did it in 2015 with 10.5 for the Packers. John Abraham led Arizona with 11.5 in 2013.

None of the other four -- James Harrison, Pittsburgh, 5.0 in 2016; Dwight Freeney, Arizona, 8.0 in 2015; Leonard Little, St. Louis, 6.5 in 2009; and Bryant Young, San Francisco, 6.5 in 2007 -- reached double figures.

Johnson, who hasn’t reached double-digit sacks since he had 11 in 2013, also doesn’t appear to be a threat to be the sack leader. He could be used more often as a first- and second-down run-stopper, with Addison and Peppers more often the pass-rushers.

“They all have a lot of pride on individually what they want to contribute,’’ Washington said. “But at the same time, we talk so much about the strength of our group, that not falling on one person.

“So they’ve really bought into that.’’

Addison also has bought into being a complete player, not just a pass-rusher, and he would no more predict Carolina’s best pass-rusher than he would a trip to the Super Bowl, as he did correctly prior to the 2015 season.

“I love my team, and we’re going to play together as a team,’’ said Addison, again taking the diplomatic route. “I’m excited to see where it leads us this year.’’

The Panthers are excited to see where Addison leads them.