CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -Charles Johnson is only 6-foot-2, his first love is basketball and he's a mean doubles tennis player.
It's hardly a resume that you'd think would produce the second-most sacks for the Carolina Panthers this season.
``I was always a basketball player,'' Johnson said Wednesday. ``If I was 6-8 I'd probably be a basketball player.''
Instead, the athletic, quick, if undersized Johnson has slowly developed into one of the biggest surprises on Carolina's defensive line. After being on the inactive list for 13 games last season, the 2007 third-round pick has become the Panthers' third-down pass-rushing specialist. The defensive end had two sacks and a forced fumble in the win over Arizona on Oct. 26 that sent the Panthers into their bye week 6-2.
Johnson's 3 1/2 sacks and 11 quarterback hurries rank second on the team behind star defensive end Julius Peppers.
A good athlete. The only thing missing is experience, and that is just a matter of playing.''
Johnson spent most Sundays last season in street clothes. His game day would officially end when the inactive list was announced 90 minutes before kickoff. Knowing that Johnson had to get stronger, bigger and better learn the defense, he didn't get a uniform until Carolina's 14th game.
For a guy who left Georgia after his junior season, then slipped into the third round of the draft because of questions about his size, Johnson was forced to be patient - and get serious about football.
``Once you look back on it, it was probably for the best,'' said Brayton, who is listed at 275 pounds. ``The coaches, they know you better than you probably know yourself. ... I learned things that I didn't know from sitting on the bench that I wouldn't know now. That helped me out a lot.''
When the Panthers finally gave him a shot late last season, Johnson capitalized. He started the final two games because of injuries, and had three tackles in a loss to Dallas.
When Mike Rucker retired after last season, the Panthers brought in veteran Tyler Brayton, who held off Johnson in training camp for the starting job opposite Peppers.
er offensive linemen. He had four tackles and a sack in a shutout win over Kansas City last month.
``You're going against big guys - 6-8, 6-9 - so it's easy for them to grab and hold onto you,'' Johnson said. ``But at the same time it's easier for shorter D-ends to get up on their pads and use your leverage and quickness and get around them more quickly.''
Kind of like Johnson used to do on the basketball court. Johnson said he played against NBA players Dwight Howard and Al Thornton while growing up in Georgia.
``I wasn't tall enough but I could get down there and bang with the big boys,'' Johnson said. ``I played against a couple of studs.''
Johnson also turned to tennis when a coach told him it would improve his quickness. Johnson continues to play a little and, no surprise, enjoys coming to the net.
Johnson has intertwined the sports to rapidly improve, and it's possible he could be starting next season.
Not bad for a hoops guy playing on the gridiron.
``Once you get your chance, you've got to play well, man,'' Johnson said. ``You've got to go out there and perform. I guess I performed, but I've got a long way to go.''

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