LaBryan Ray is a picture of how the USFL is supposed to work. Signed mid-season in 2023 by the Philadelphia Stars, he came in and made an immediate impact. After the USFL season ended he was signed by the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers had a lot of talent on their interior defensive line but Ray brought recent starting experience, as a depth piece this was invaluable.
Preseason and Training Camp Performance
During the preseason and training camp Ray showed the Panthers why the USFL wanted him, and why Bill Belichick and the Patriots kept him on their practice squad last season. Ray was released in February inking his USFL deal just 3 months later. While he only played in 7 games with 5 starts he managed 10 tackles and 3 sacks.
Given that the Philadelphia Stars did not make the playoffs Ray was able to start pursuing NFL deals right away. By July 29th he had secured his next destination with the Panthers. Signed due to his ability to play defensive end in a 3-4 or defensive tackle 4-3, he would go on to see 70 snaps in the preseason.
According to Pff.com his best performance came in week one as he notched a 65.4 grade. Overall in 3 games Ray added 3 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 run stop. This garnered him a 61 overall grade and displayed progress over his 2022 season. During the 2022 preseason Ray was graded out at a 52.4 while playing 101 snaps for the Patriots.
3-4 Defense Benefits Ray
As of right now, Ray is the only depth behind the starting unit of Derrick Brown and DeShawn Williams in this 3-4 defense. This scheme also plays into the strengths Ray has shown by allowing him to attack the opposing offense every play.
A member of the Vic Fangio coaching tree this new 3-4 defense for Carolina plays right into the talent they have on the team, Ray included. In an article with the Charlotte Observer defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero spoke on why he likes the 3-4 defense and how it creates an advantage: “You don’t know where that extra rusher is coming from,” Evero said. “It’s that extra level that the offense has to grow through to figure out what you’re doing.”
Ray has never been known for his pass rush ability to this point and has always been regarded as a run defender first and foremost. His 4 sacks in 10 games show there might be more upside to Ray as a pass rusher than previously thought. However this scheme, and the way it approaches opposing offenses, as well as the lack of competition for reps could add up to Ray finally ascending to the next level of his development. In my opinion he couldn’t have landed in a better situation.
Best of luck to LaBryan Ray, and one of my favorite coaching staffs in the NFL this season.
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