|Panthers elect to stand pat at cornerback, not bring in any veteran players|
|Written by Steve Reed|
|Monday, 05 September 2011 14:29|
CHARLOTTE – Of all the moves the Carolina Panthers made over the weekend, it’s the one they didn’t make that’s perhaps the most intriguing.|
The Panthers elected not to sign or trade for a veteran cornerback despite it clearly being a position of need. Instead, coach Ron Rivera said Monday the team will stand pat at that position – at least for now.
After evaluating the players available in free agency, the Panthers decided not to bring in anyone from outside the organization with the exception of claiming rookie Josh Thomas off waivers from the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. That leaves the Panthers with starters Chris Gamble and Captain Munnerlyn at cornerback, with R.J. Stanford and Thomas as backups entering Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals.
Rivera said the Panthers will “probably” go into the season with that foursome of cornerbacks, but quickly added, “we have to be very fluid.”
So why didn’t the Panthers make a move there?
“The biggest thing is when you look at the guys that are out there they’re similar to what we already have,” Rivera said. “You would like to try to bring in guys that are different and have unique qualities and fit you a little bit better. So as we looked at it we were trying to find guys that would do that for us and had something different (to offer).
“We opted to stay with the guys we know -- that we’ve had for a month -- so there’s no transition period.”
In many respects, the players that were available after Saturday’s cuts were similar in stature to smaller cornerbacks like Munnerlyn (5-8, 186) and Stanford (5-10, 183).
There was some speculation the Panthers might go after Philadelphia cornerback Joselio Hanson, who’s been a career nickel back, but they didn’t, even though he has a history with Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.
“He was one of the guys we talked about, but we think we have that guy,” Rivera said of Hanson.
There’s no doubt the secondary will be tested early.
The Panthers face wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and the Arizona Cardinals in the season opener and then host Super Bowl MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a talented group of receivers that includes Greg Jennings when they host the Green Bay Packers in the home opener the following week.
Carolina’s plan going into the season is to bring in Jordan Pugh in nickel packages. Pugh will serve as the strong safety, Sherrod Martin will slide over to free safety and Charles Godfrey will move from free safety to cornerback.
Godfrey played cornerback at Iowa, but hasn’t played the position since coming into the NFL in 2008.
“I’m a DB, and I feel like I have been blessed with the ability to come in and play corner,” Godfrey said. “This gives me an opportunity to be around the ball even more and that’s what I like. I like to be around the ball so I can make an impact and make plays. It’s a new challenge. I’m ready to tackle it.”
Rivera likes the look because it gives the Panthers a chance to get Pugh on the field, a player he deemed as one of the team’s best defenders.
The decision to stand pat leaves Gamble and Munnerlyn as the starters entering the season.
Most thought the Panthers would look to upgrade that position in the offseason, but the team chose not to trade for Philadelphia’s Asante Samuel – the reported asking price of two second-round picks and the prospect of paying his base salaries of nearly $9 million per year over the next three seasons was way too high – or sign any other free agents like Will Allen, Lito Sheppard, Kelvin Hayden or Randall Gay.
Munnerlyn, an overachiever as a seventh-round draft pick, took that as a vote of confidence.
“It’s just shows that my coaches and my teammates have a little confidence in me,” said Munnerlyn, who started the final six games last season and finished tied for second on the team in interceptions with three.
Munnerlyn believes he’s an every down cornerback.
“To those that don’t believe me, that just gives me more confidence to go out and prove a point that I can do it,” he said.
Gamble, who failed to register a pick last year and was eventually benched, is viewed as the team’s No. 1 cornerback and will be asked to do more this season despite a rough outing in the third preseason game against Cincinnati where he got beat twice by rookie receiver A.J. Green.
“We’re going to look at ways to use him to the best of his ability,” Rivera said of Gamble. “You can match him up with the No. 1 guy or you can roll away from him and have him cover somebody else. I’m not going to put a stamp on anything we’re going to do specifically, but there are a lot of different things we can do with Chris as far as our cover schemes.”
That means there’s the potential that Godfrey could be matched up on Fitzgerald, a receiver he considers the best in the league.
“I’m up for it,” Godfrey said of the challenge.
The Panthers seem to have the same philosophy at defensive tackle as they do cornerback.
The only upgrade they made there was acquiring third-year pro Marcus Harrison off waivers from the Chicago Bears. Harrison’s nine starts make him the leader in the clubhouse when it comes to that position. Starters Sione Fua and Terrell McClain are rookies, while the other backup Andre Neblett started just one game last year in his first season.
When asked if that lack of experience is a concern, Rivera laughed and said, “It’s definitely a concern. I’ve got more experience (nine years playing in the NFL) than half of the defense put together. That’s just the way it is.
“That’s what you do in terms of looking to build. We’re going to have to grow up. Like I said before, we’re going to be the little brothers that get punched a few times but eventually we’ll start punching back. As we get to that point where we grow and develop as a team we’re going to do it with these young players. These are guys that will grow in our system and we’ll grow around them.”