CHARLOTTE, N.C. – How much better the Carolina Panthers will be on defense this season depends on several factors, including resolving the Julius Peppers stalemate.

But after two days of minicamp practices, it’s clear new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks does things differently.

Safe to say the burly Mike Trgovac never ran alongside his players in drills. There weren’t too many instances of Trgovac dishing out high-fives in practice, either.

The small and fit ex-defensive back is all about energy.

“Well, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?” Meeks said Saturday. “You identify yourself with how you practice and how you play. Instead of talking about it, you’ve got to try to do it. We try to have an up-tempo kind of thing. I think it’s going to be good for the guys.”

The 54-year-old Meeks left Indianapolis in January and took over the Panthers’ defense when Trgovac turned down a contract extension. Meeks inherits a unit that hemorrhaged points late last season and faces uncertainty with its best player.

Peppers, a four-time Pro Bowl pick, wants to play elsewhere and has been absent from the weekend workouts.

“Hopefully he’s here pretty soon,” Meeks said. “I think he’s going to be a big part in what we do.”

Peppers, who has not signed his one-year, franchise-tag tender worth $16.7 million, had 141/2 sacks last season. The other three starters on the line combined for eight.

“Obviously we have a special guy with special talent in Peppers,” Meeks said. “Also Tyler Brayton is a guy that can get pressure. We went into the draft looking at some guys that can give us obvious pressure. We think Everette Brown can be one of those guys.”

The Panthers took Brown, the ex-Florida State star who led the Atlantic Coast Conference with 13 sacks last season, with an extra second-round pick obtained by trading next year’s first-rounder to San Francisco.

It was a bold move for a player who is only 6-2 and 256 pounds, undersized for an NFL defensive end. But Meeks had success with the smaller, lighter Dwight Freeney (6-1, 268) and Robert Mathis (6-2, 245) in Indianapolis.

“I think the biggest thing is we felt that his skill set will fit into what we’re trying to do” Meeks said. “We need to try to create some more pressure in passing situations.”

We felt having another guy opposite Peppers could get some production and some pressure.”

Meeks stressed his system will adapt to the personnel. He didn’t have a mammoth defensive tackle in Indianapolis like he does in Carolina with 6-foot-5, 345-pound Maake Kemoeatu.

Fellow tackle Damione Lewis (6-2, 301) also is more of a run-stuffer, but Lewis played under Meeks in St. Louis.

Meeks identified middle linebacker Jon Beason and cornerback Chris Gamble as playmakers in the back seven that he will adjust his scheme for.

Meeks has been considered head coach material, and he’s coached under some big names, including Dan Reeves and Jimmy Johnson. His Colts team in 2007 led the NFL in scoring defense.

But now he inherits a leaky unit that allowed an average of 29.5 points over the final seven games last season.

Meeks is confident the defense is better than those numbers. Getting Peppers in the fold is key, but until then Meeks is working with what he has – and making an early impression that’s hard to ignore.

“Meeks is a fiery guy, out there running around,” Beason said. “You can see he’s in good shape so he can keep up with us.”

Notes: With DeAngelo Williams (hamstring) and Jonathan Stewart (ankle) still sidelined with minor injuries, the Panthers signed undrafted RB Markus Manson of Valdosta State to provide depth. … Undrafted rookie QB Hunter Cantwell of Louisville showed off a strong arm, connecting a couple of times with WR Ryne Robinson. … Fourth-round pick Mike Goodson returned after missing Friday’s afternoon workout with an illness. … CB Dante Wesley has taken Ken Lucas’ old No. 21 and Mackenzy Bernadeau has switched to Jeremy Bridges’ old No. 73.

AP-ES-05-02-09 2039EDT

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