Kemoeatu beefs up Panthers' defense
By Mike Cranston
By Mike Cranston
SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Ma'ake Kemoeatu lost about 10 pounds in the first four days of training camp with the Carolina Panthers, but for the newest and largest addition to the defensive line, it was hard to tell.
The Panthers already have Julius Peppers, Mike Rucker and Kris Jenkins up front, and hope the Kahuku High and University of Utah alum will make Carolina's line the best in the NFL.
"It's a very talented line," said Kemoeatu, a defensive tackle who signed with the Panthers in the offseason after recording a career-high 70 tackles with Baltimore last season.
"They're already the best, I'm just an addition." he said. "I'm just adding on to what they already have. I'm just trying to keep up."
With the 6-foot-5 Kemoeatu, that line will be a lot bigger.
During minicamp in April, Kemoeatu weighed 370 pounds. He checked into training camp at 355 pounds and said Monday he weighed about 345. The goal was to lose another 10 pounds.
"That would be a good playing weight for myself," said Kemoeatu, brought in to replace the released Brentson Buckner. "That would make me light enough to move around but heavy enough to take on those double teams."
The stifling heat at camp — the heat index was above 100 degrees for Tuesday's afternoon workout — is speeding up the weight-loss program.
"Yes, it's going to brutal when it's 101 or 104 degrees outside," Kemoeatu said. "But you have to learn to play in any type of weather. You have to fight through it, and for those of us like myself, who are a little overweight, the weather helps. I can sweat out all the water weight."
The Panthers, considered Super Bowl favorites by many, have been known for their defensive line for several years. Peppers had 10.5 sacks last year and made the Pro Bowl. Rucker is a former Pro Bowler who is Carolina's all-time leader with 47.5 sacks. Jenkins, 335 pounds himself, made two straight Pro Bowls before knee injures limited him to five games over the past two seasons.
As Kemoeatu learns the Panthers' system, he has been leaning on Jenkins.
"Kris Jenkins was the first guy I met when I joined the team and we've become good friends," Kemoeatu said. "With us being in the middle, we have to, because communication is so important. He's been teaching me some tricks he's learned. He's more of a mentor for me to learn the ins and outs of the Panthers' defense."
Kemoeatu, who played on the AFC's top defense in 2004 and the second-best last season with the Ravens, thinks the Panthers have a shot to be the best this season.
"Baltimore had a good defense and Carolina has a good defense," Kemoeatu said. "But it comes down to the season. Right now we're working at becoming a great defense."
Peppers thinks replacing Buckner with Kemoeatu gives the line a chance to be dominant.
"It's a definite upgrade from last year," Peppers said. "He's going to help me out with the run game, he's a big body and a great run stopper. I'm happy to have him and I'm ready to see how he does in a real game."
Until then, fans at training camp will get to marvel at Kemoeatu's size. But the 27-year-old said guys his size are no big deal in his hometown of Kahuku. His father is 6 feet 9.
"When I go back to the Polynesian Islands in Hawai'i, I become average size," he said.
Guard Mike Wahle, who has to go up against the defensive line in practice, thinks Kemoeatu is plenty big enough.
"Everyone up there has been an All-Pro and then they go out and get a guy that's 365 (pounds)," Wahle marveled.