- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- I had hoped to bring you some observations from the Carolina Panthers’ Monday night practice.
But that’s not going to happen. The Panthers just cut practice way short. They were on the field for a little more than 20 minutes, when heavy rain and some thunder in the distance forced them off the field. It’s still unclear if the Panthers will resume their practice at the Wofford College gymnasium. But, even if they do, that session is likely to be similar to a walk-through session and that will not be open to the public.
Given the circumstances, I’ve got to do a little balancing act here. Most of the information I’ve gathered already will be used in Carolina’s Camp Confidential, which is scheduled to run Sunday, but I want to give you something to help pass the time.
So let’s talk about Carolina’s cornerback situation beyond veteran starter Chris Gamble. Captain Munnerlyn is the other incumbent starter, but there had been some hope coming into camp that second-year pro Brandon Hogan or rookie Josh Norman could claim a starting job and allow Munnerlyn to become the nickel back.
But Hogan and Norman each have missed practice time with injuries. So how does that leave the Panthers at cornerback? Not without hope.
“There’s a couple of guys that have really flashed and have taken advantage of the opportunity of having other guys out,’’ coach Ron Rivera said Monday morning. “We’ve had two guys down that we think are good corners, young corners that are developing in Brandon and Josh. And we’ve had guys that have really truly stepped up. Darius Butler stepped up. Josh Thomas has stepped up. R.J. Stanford has stepped up. It’s not like we don’t have guys there. As guys go through this and are rehabbing, other guys have stepped up. That’s all you can do. You get your opportunities, you’ve got to step up and take advantage of those opportunities.’’
Here’s the translation: The Panthers aren’t giving up on the idea of Hogan or Norman playing significant roles in the regular season. Of course, much of that depends on if Hogan and Norman are healthy enough to show what they can do in preseason games. Thomas and Stafford are guys that could challenge for one of the final roster spots or could end up on the practice squad.
Just from the vibe I got from various people with the Panthers on Monday, Butler is the guy we should be keeping an eye on right now. They say, of all the guys that have stepped up, Butler has stepped up the most.
Plus, Butler has a fair amount of experience. He spent 2009 and ’10 with the New England Patriots and started eight games. Butler joined the Panthers last season and started six games.
Even if Butler, Hogan or Norman doesn’t show enough to win the starting job, the hope is that one of them can step up enough to earn significant playing time. The Panthers aren’t opposed to a scenario in which Munnerlyn still would start and one of the other corners would come in and take his spot in nickel situations. In that scenario, Munnerlyn then would slide inside where he would line up against slot receivers.