The 2011 season was full of problems in the Carolina Panthers’ secondary. The team ranked No. 24 in the NFL in passing yards allowed (246.8 yards per game) and only six teams gave up more passing touchdowns than Carolina’s 28.
Through the 2012 draft and offseason free agency, Carolina brought in depth to the tune of 15 players on the roster in training camp that either play safety or cornerback. It’s a good thing the Panthers brought in that depth because the injury bug is raising its head at camp and the secondary is taking the brunt of the damage.
Head coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday he was concerned with the health of his defensive backfield.
"(I'm) real concerned. The young guys, you make good strides but then you take a couple of steps back because you're not on the field," Rivera said. "You'd like to have them back on the field; in fact, they've got to get back on the field because the other guys are getting reps and getting better. That's the bottom line.
"It's unfortunate that they got nicked, but at the same time you've got to take care of yourself, you've got to do what you're supposed to do and do the best you can to get back out there."
Rookie corner Josh Norman (hamstring) and second-year corner Brandon Hogan (knee) have both missed two consecutive days of practice. Both were expected to compete with Captain Munnerlyn for the starting corner spot opposite Chris Gamble.
As a silver lining, some of the corners deeper down the depth chart are gaining experience—and a few are shining.
Rivera said Wednesday that Darius Butler, Josh Thomas and R.J. Stanford have stepped up and done a tremendous job, while Munnerlyn picked off a pass Wednesday as did Gamble to represent the first-team defense.
Butler, D.J. Campbell and Charles Godfrey all picked off passes in Thursday’s practice while Josh Thomas knocked down several balls, according to reports from the Panthers official website.
While building on the depth in the secondary is great, the Panthers need Norman and Hogan back in the mix.
According to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer, Norman, who tweaked his hamstring Monday, Rivera said Norman will be back "pretty soon." Other reports have said by Sunday’s practice.
Hogan’s return date is less clear.
With Norman and Hogan sidelined, general manager Marty Hurney made a move to bring in corner Nate Ness. Because of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, Ness will have to wait until Saturday to participate fully in practice.