Captain Munnerlyn will start this week at cornerback for the Panthers. (Photo by John Clark)
CHARLOTTE – Captain Munnerlyn has been friends with Darius Butler ever since the two cornerbacks met a few years ago at Deion Sanders’ Prime U training facility in Dallas.
But that doesn’t mean Munnerlyn is going to be giving his buddy any charity.
"If he's coming for my (starting) spot, he's got to come with it because I'm tough to beat," said Munnerlyn, who will start Sunday at Arizona. "It's going to be a tough competition, but I love competitions. It's just going to make me and him better. At the end of the day, he's still my teammate and one of my best friends."
Butler, a former second round pick by New England, was cut by Patriots earlier this week and claimed by the Panthers on Tuesday.
He practiced with the team on Wednesday and coach Ron Rivera expects he’ll play in certain nickel packages and in relief duty Sunday against the Cardinals.
"Everybody in this locker room wants to be on the field, and obviously that's my goal, too," Butler said. "I'm going to pick up on the schemes as fast as I can and get on the field as fast as I can. We all know this is a production business, and guys are fighting for jobs every day, on every team."
Rivera remains high on the 5-foot-8 Munnerlyn, but felt like the team couldn’t pass on Butler, who started eight games for the Patriots in two seasons and had three picks as a rookie in 2009.
"The biggest thing Darius has is top-end speed – he's a 4.3 guy, and that's always intriguing to find,” Rivera said. “Secondly, he's got long arms – a long-armed corner that plays very physical.
“Captain is a young man who plays hard, plays physical. Sure, he has some other qualities that people wish were different, but he uses what he has to the best of his ability, and to us he's an NFL starter. Are we always looking to improve? Yes, at every position, whether it's that individual bettering himself or we find an individual that is better. But for now, this young man is going to start for us and is going to give us everything he has."
Munnerlyn is out to prove things don’t need to change.
"I feel like I'm an every-down corner," Munnerlyn said. "People point out my size, but I go out there on Sundays and make plays, no matter how tall I am. People say, ‘He's only 5-9. He can't jump with a 6-2, 6-3 receiver.' I've got a nice little vertical, and I'm a physical guy. If I beat them up at the line of scrimmage, they can't get down the field."
BEASON EXPECTED TO PLAY: MLB Jon Beason has started 48 consecutive games for the Panthers and Rivera looks for him to continue that streak Sunday at Arizona.
“I expect him to play,” Rivera said of the three-time Pro Bowl selection. “We limited his reps but he did work with the first team… He made it through and looked good in doing so.”
Beason, who missed all of the preseason with a foot injury, said prior to practice he felt “pretty good.”
“It’s going to be a process and everything is geared toward Sunday,” Beason said. “We’ll see what happens. I’m going to try my best.”
Beason practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday, along with RG Mackenzy Bernadeau. WR Kealoha Pilares (ankle) and CB Josh Thomas (hamstring) did not practice.
PILARES ON THE MEND: Pilares said he’s progressing well from his high ankle sprain, but said trainers haven’t given him a date on when he’ll be allowed to play. He suspects it will be sooner rather than later.
“Hopefully I’m right around the corner,” he said. “I’ve been able to job, so I’m getting closer.”
WHAT BROWN CAN'T DO FOR YOU: Rivera elaborated a bit more on the team’s decision to waive DE Everette Brown, the team’s second-round draft pick in 2009, a few days ago.
“It’s about being able to work within what we’re doing and fit what we’re doing,” Rivera said. “We just felt like there were some guys that fit better. He’s a tremendous football player with great athletic ability but for what we do it just didn’t fit us.”
Rivera said he felt Brown and Eric Norwood are very similar players in that they’re both speed rushers.
“To keep two guys that had those qualities was tough on our (roster) numbers,” Rivera said.
QUARTERBACK SITUATION: Rivera said he still hasn’t decided who’ll be the team’s No. 2 quarterback behind Cam Newton and won’t until later in the week. He said Jimmy Clausen and Derek Anderson are continuing to split reps behind Cam Newton.
ROSTER MOVE: SS Stevie Brown’s tenure with the Panthers didn’t last long. The Panthers cut him after just one practice and decided to bring back veteran SS Sean Considine to take his place.
“It was a little bit unexpected, but at the same time I’m thankful to be back,” Considine said. “It was unfortunate that it happened but in a short time period it was made right.”
THREE DEFENSIVE TACKLES: The Panthers will go into the season with only three defensive tackles on the roster, but Rivera said he only expected to activate seven defensive linemen – four ends and three tackles -- on game day.
Rivera feels like Charles Johnson, George Selvie and Greg Hardy can all slide inside to play defensive tackle on any given play.
It’s possible the Panthers could add a veteran defensive tackle to the mix after Week 1 when contracts are non-guaranteed. But at least for this week it appears they’re sticking with what they have.