Analyzing Each Carolina Panthers DB That Will Make the Roster
Similar to their receiver corps, the Carolina Panthers' secondary has experienced a lot of roster turnover over the offseason. The secondary is the apparent weakness of an otherwise strong Carolina defense.
Fortunately for the team, an influx of new players typically results in a healthy and heated competition, because most have to prove their ability to coaches with whom they haven't previously worked.
The less fortunate side of that competitive environment is the fact that the Panthers will have to cut their roster down to 53 men before the season, and that means that several backs competing for a spot in the secondary will not make the team. In fact, if team precedent is a guide, it's likely that four or five defensive backs will be cut from the 15 currently on the roster.
Read on to find out which defensive backs will make the cut and how each might contribute to the Carolina secondary.
Cornerback Bene Benwikere
Benwikere began to slip in May's draft so Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman made the decision to trade up in the sixth round to nab the talented cornerback.
Benwikere is a small-school player (San Jose State), but he'll have to adjust to NFL-level talent quickly in his rookie season. The Panthers aren't loaded with talent at the position, so he'll be seeing time on the field in preseason.
In man coverage, Benwikere can struggle against faster receivers, but the Panthers will rarely put him in a position where's assigned the other team's speediest wideout.
He's a heady player so he'll look to be a disruptive force in zone coverage and showed at San Jose State that he can create turnovers—he had 12 interceptions in his final two collegiate seasons.
Cornerback Antoine Cason
After a short stint with the Arizona Cardinals, Cason comes to the Panthers as a likely starter in 2014.
The six-year veteran was a first-round pick by the San Diego Chargers in 2008 and was successful early on in his career, seeing steady playing time from his rookie season onward.
Cason lacks the physicality to be a shutdown corner, but he possesses above-average athleticism and consistently finds the ball. He has had two or more interceptions in each season of his career.
While he doesn't do any one thing great, Cason will be a solid starter because he also doesn't have a glaring weakness to his game—he doesn't often get burned in man coverage and he's scheme-versatile.
Cornerback Charles Godfrey
Charles Godfrey is switching from safety to cornerback after six seasons in the league. What he has working for him is past experience at the position, as he played cornerback in college with the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Godfrey doesn't have elite speed, but he plays tenaciously with high effort and physicality. He'll be a great matchup against more physical receivers and teams that like to split out their tight ends, mainly in nickel coverage.
Expect him to find a way to contribute heavily in run support as well, which was a strength of his game at safety. He loves to stick his nose in and make a big hit, so the Panthers will give him opportunities to showcase that aspect of his game.
Cornerback Josh Norman
Norman saw a steady does of playing time in his rookie season, but in his sophomore season he took a step back.
In his second season, Norman did not progress as the team had hoped and despite possessing the necessary talent, he struggled early in the season.
Around Carolina, Norman is well known for his ballhawking ability after leading the NFL in preseason interceptions in 2013 and for his strong showings in practice, but he's yet to consistently translate those skills to the regular season.
The third-year player has the speed, long arms and sense of timing, but until he can find his role in the Panthers' scheme, he won't figure to play much of a role in this defense.
Cornerback Josh Thomas
Similar to Norman, Thomas has the talent to start for Carolina in 2014, but he's struggled to fit into the team's scheme.
Thomas fits better into a scheme that's more man heavy, where he can utilize an impressive ability to jam receivers and his above-average recovery speed.
Instead, he's looked out of place in adjusting to the Panthers' zone-heavy defense and repeated mental errors have put him in Ron Rivera's doghouse on several occasions.
This is the final season on Thomas's contract, so he'll have to settle in with more consistent play or he'll be released and unlikely to attract much attention in free agency.
Cornerback Melvin White
In his rookie season with the Panthers, the undrafted free agent White excelled. He's a great fit for the team's scheme, as he substitutes recovery speed with excellent length and instincts.
White plays with a safety mentality and rarely gets beaten deep, despite his lacking top-end speed. He's also shown that he can make big plays when his team needs him most, such as his pick-six against the Atlanta Falcons in the regular-season finale that clinched the NFC South title for the Panthers.
Safety Tre Boston
At safety, Boston plays with a similar style to teammate Charles Godfrey. He tends to take chances in coverage and loves to play in the box and support against the run.
Boston plays with excellent speed and physicality, but he needs to grow more comfortable in zone coverage to fit into a role as a deep safety in the Panthers' Tampa-2 defense.
Regardless of his progression in his rookie season, Boston won't break into the starting lineup unless the proven veteran Thomas DeCoud is out of the lineup due to injury.
Safety Thomas DeCoud
Speaking of Tomas DeCoud, the former Falcon should fit in great with the Panthers' defense from Day 1.
DeCoud was a playmaker with Atlanta, recording 10 interceptions in a two-year span from 2011-2012, but after a scheme change required him to play closer to the line of scrimmage and less deep zone coverage, he recorded no interceptions in 2013.
In Carolina, he'll be able to resume the role that he once succeeded at—defending the deep half of the field and using his instincts to create turnovers.
Safety Roman Harper
Another former NFC South foe that landed with the Panthers this offseason is Roman Harper.
Harper had played his entire eight-year career in New Orleans, but now switches teams to bolster the Panthers secondary. He'll play in a role similar to the one occupied by former Panther Mike Mitchell—a box safety whose main responsibility is run support and is heavily involved in blitz packages.
Harper provides leadership to the defense as well and will match the energy of Mitchell, who brought a distinct attitude and aggressiveness to a resurgent Carolina defense in 2013.
Safety Robert Lester
Due to a number of injuries to the members of Carolina's secondary last season, the rookie Lester saw significant playing time and impressed while on the field.
Lester isn't incredibly fluid in coverage and doesn't have great speed, but he rarely made mental mistakes in his rookie season and was a strong run supporter.
He'll remain the backup to Harper for now, but with the right grooming, Lester could become a solid future starter for the Panthers and bring consistency to a secondary that seems to have a new look every season.