Panthers DE Mario Addison continues to ‘burst out of boxes’

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              File-This July30, 2018, file photo shows Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton, right, running the ball as Mario Addison, left, pursues during an NFL football practice at the team's training camp in Spartanburg, S.C. Addison has spent his entire life shedding labels. Now the former undrafted rookie from Troy who was waived by three other NFL teams appears on the verge of joining the upper echelon of the league’s defensive ends entering his eighth season. The 30-year-old Addison has slowly but steadily worked his way up through the NFL ranks, going from being a special teams player early in his career to a third-down pass rush specialist and finally to an every down defensive end last season.  (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)
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SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) — Panthers defensive end Mario Addison has spent his entire life shedding labels.

Now the former undrafted rookie from Troy who was waived by three other NFL teams appears on the verge of joining the upper echelon of the league’s defensive ends entering his eighth season.

The 30-year-old Addison has slowly but steadily worked his way up through the NFL ranks, going from being a special teams player early in his career to a third-down pass rush specialist and finally to an every down defensive end last season. Despite being undersized at 254 pounds, Addison started all 16 games for the Panthers in 2017, registering 11 sacks and 44 tackles.

“He’s been a guy that everybody had tried to knock for his whole career,” Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said. “Everyone has tried to put him in a box and he keeps bursting out of the box that people try to put him in. And yet nobody talks enough about what he has done.”

All Addison has done is record 20 ½ sacks over the last two seasons and taken a firm grasp on the team’s starting right defensive end spot. Not bad for a kid who was so lightly recruited in high school he wound up playing at Northeast Community College in Booneville, Mississippi before earning a scholarship offer from Troy.

Addison’s NFL career didn’t begin to blossom until he joined the Panthers late in the 2012 season.

He played mostly on special teams at first, but developed into a situational pass rusher and combined for 12 ½ sacks in 2013 and 2014. The following year he tallied 9 ½ sacks, earning him a three-year, $22.5 million contract from Carolina.

“I knew I had it me,” Addison said. “I just had to show the coaches that I was able to play every down. Every year I grew and showed them that I am worthy of playing every down. It has worked out for me.”

The knock on Addison was that he wasn’t big enough.

He regularly gives up 50-plus pounds and several inches to some of the league’s gigantic left tackles.

But teammates and coaches say Addison has unusual strength and desire to get better that has taken him to another level.

“I think he’s tough, he’s physical and he’s strong,” Kuechly said. “His speed and his strength are a very rare combination. I mean, he has 20 ½ sacks the last two seasons. If you were to say that about another guy in the league, you would be ranking him way higher, right?”

Eric Washington, the Panthers defensive line coach prior to being promoted to coordinator earlier this offseason, has been a huge influence on Addison.

Addison said Washington gave him the “tools” he needed to add to his skillset and showed him how to use them. Addison took it from there, working day after day to perfect his craft not only as a rusher but as a run defender.

Washington talks of Addison like a proud parent, calling him one of the toughest players he’s ever coached — both physically and mentally — and saying the motivation of being cut by three other teams has helped drive him to succeed.

“Every single year he has accepted the challenge of improving and growing,” Washington said. “He’s always wanted to be a starter and a difference maker.”

Addison said his personal goal this season is to top 11 sacks.

Teammates like Kuechly say that is entirely possible, knowing his motivation.

“Everything I got now, I worked for,” Addison said. “And I value it. Nothing was given to me in this league. Truly everything I got, I earned. Every morning I wake up and I’m driven — I am driven to get better.”