David J. Phillip, Associated Press
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jordan Senn is quietly making a name for himself with the Panthers despite not having the size, speed or quickness of most NFL linebackers.
In fact, the fourth-year linebacker is playing so well in the first starting opportunity of his career that coach Ron Rivera said he's considering making him a full-time starter next season.
"He's become one of those guys where if he continues to play like this it's going to be hard to justify not having him on the field," Rivera said. "Shoot, he could come back next year and be the starter."
That's pretty big news for a guy who's been told throughout his football career he's too small to be an every down player in the NFL.
The 5-foot-11, 224-pound Senn has long been touted for his solid special teams play, which is the primary reason the Panthers re-signed him as a restricted free agent last year. He'll be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but the Panthers have already said they'd like him back in the fold.
It's easy to see why.
Since taking over five games ago as the team's starting weak side linebacker Senn has been stellar. He's coming off his best game last week against the Texans, registering 14 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble in a 28-13 win.
He will be back in the starting lineup Saturday when the Panthers (5-9) host Tampa Bay (4-10). Granted, it took the Panthers a while to get to Senn on the depth chart.
The Panthers went through three other linebackers on the weak side before turning to Senn.
"We only keep 53 guys and the guys that are on this roster we keep for a reason," Rivera said. "We do tend to believe that these guys can play, and play well, when called upon. That is what Jordan has done. Each week he's stepped up and made plays and been very consistent. He's put himself position to make plays."
Last week, Senn forced Arian Foster's fumble on the second play of the game,
Later, he intercepted T.J. Yates' pass to keep the momentum on Carolina's side.
"I think he's a very smart and talented young man," Rivera said. "And I think he has a lot of football savvy and he's a great athlete, so that's a good combination."
What isn't good is his size.
NFL scouts tend to look at his physical stature and think there's no way he can hold up against offensive linemen when they get to the second level of the defense. It's the main reason why he went to Portland State rather than a more prominent school and why he went undrafted.
"I've always had people say I was too small my whole career, in college and the NFL, as well," Senn said. "I just made do with what I have and just try to play a different way."
Rivera said the key for Senn is initiate the contact rather than try to wait and take on blockers.
"If you get hesitant or stay back, the big offensive linemen engulf you because of his lack of size," Rivera said. "If he's downhill, he's delivering the first blow."
Rivera played linebacker for nine seasons in the NFL and knows good ones come in all shapes and forms.
He was a big fan of Sam Mills, the only Carolina player with a statue outside of Bank of America Stadium.
Like Senn, Mills was undersized.
"I'm one of those who believe that (size) doesn't matter," Rivera said. "What matters is what you are and what you know and (if you) know how you execute it. I think the greatest linebacker who ever played for this team was Sam Mills and he was less than six foot. I don't buy into that one bit."
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