NFC South: Josh Norman

Panthers have work to do in secondary

November, 24, 2013
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MIAMI -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera didn't say he was going to make changes to his secondary after Sunday's 20-16 victory over the Miami Dolphins, but don't be surprised if he does.

The week after starter Josh Thomas was beaten deep on a couple of plays against the St. Louis Rams, including a 63-yard touchdown that was nullified by a penalty, the cornerback was inactive.

Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott also sat cornerback Josh Norman this season after he missed some plays.

After watching Miami wide receiver Mike Wallace torch cornerback Captain Munnerlyn for a 53-yard touchdown and a 57-yard catch that set up a field goal, and after watching him get behind safety Mike Mitchell near the goal line on the next-to-last-play, Rivera hinted something had to change.

Or he could make more changes.

"Getting over the top,'' Rivera said. "Your job is to keep it in front of you and you have to. And we're going to address that and make sure it gets corrected. We're going to play the guy that does things that we ask them ... to do it the right way.''

Rivera didn't mention names. It's highly unlikely he would make a change with Munnerlyn, who has been Carolina's steadiest corner all season. He has pointed to Mitchell on several occasions as the inspirational leader of the secondary, so a change there would come as a surprise.

But Rivera obviously wasn't happy, to the point he almost couldn't enjoy the win.

"It almost certainly has to be corrected,'' Rivera said. "We cannot allow those things. That's disappointing. A couple of things we're going to address and get corrected. We have to because we can't allow that. We don't give ourselves a chance to win games. We've got to play smart.''

Munnleryn, who for the past few weeks has argued Carolina's secondary that came into the season as a weak link wasn't getting respect, took responsibility for Wallace's big plays in the first half.

"It's my fault,'' he said. "I sat on his route and thought a comeback was coming, but I stuck to the route and lost him. I have a sharp memory and I'll pick my game back up.''

Mitchell didn't seem concerned that Wallace was going to catch the last deep pass and spoil Carolina's comeback.

"No way I was going to let him catch the ball,'' he said.

And no way will Rivera sit back and watch deep passes get behind his secondary.

Stay tuned.

Florence and Panthers need each other

September, 19, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There's nothing like a two-week vacation without pay.

That pretty much sums up what happened to veteran cornerback Drayton Florence, who was re-signed by the Carolina Panthers on Wednesday night after being cut following the final preseason game in August.

That pretty much sums up the injury-riddled Carolina secondary.

Florence has gone from taking his son to swim lessons to possibly starting at left corner in Sunday's 1 p.m. game against the New York Giants.

Then there's rookie Robert Lester, who went from the practice squad to definitely starting at strong safety.

When they say next man up in the NFL, they mean it. Florence is just happy for the opportunity after being at home on opening day for the first time since he was selected in the second round of the 2003 draft.

Now he has a couple of days to get ready for the Giants, who lead the league in passing.

"I'm ready,'' Florence said. "This is my opening day.''

Florence most definitely will play. Whether he starts depends on Josh Thomas being cleared by doctors after suffering a concussion in Sunday's 24-23 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Thomas practiced on a limited basis on Thursday, as did backup Josh Norman (thigh bruise), and is optimistic he'll be cleared.

But as head coach Ron Rivera said, the signing of Florence "was a very prudent move.''

He's insurance.

He's also a veteran who may be able to help a young group that even before the rash of injuries against Buffalo -- the most severe free safety Charles Godfrey lost for the year with a torn Achilles -- struggled to stop the pass.

Opposing quarterbacks have completed 72.2 percent of their attempts, a big reason for the 0-2 start. Only the Washington Redskins at 73.1 are worse.

"It's like he never left,'' Rivera said of Florence. "He did a nice job of understanding what we're doing, the concepts we're using for this game, and he just fit right in. It was good to have him back in the meetings and the practice field. It was kind of neat watching him work with some of the younger guys, too.''

The Panthers need experience even though they are excited about the young, athletic potential of Thomas and Norman. Of the starters without Florence, no member of the secondary has been in the league more than five seasons.

"I always thought it was very athletic,'' Florence said of the secondary before he was cut. "We were taking the underdog approach. It was something we kind of established in training camp.

"[But] those things don't mean much until you start winning games.''

The Panthers need Florence almost as much as he needs them. After several weeks of taking the kids to school in Jacksonville, Fla., his wife "was a little bit tired of me hanging around the house.''

"We're all happy now,'' said Florence, who has offers from right cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards to sleep on their couch or spare bed. "I'm just coming here to help the team out anyway I can.''

Injury report: DT Edwards questionable

September, 19, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera is concerned that starting defensive tackle Dwan Edwards won't be ready for Sunday's game against the New York Giants.

Edwards missed his second straight day of practice on Thursday with a thigh injury. It is the same injury that had Edwards limited the week before the opener, in which he played.

"Yes there is [a concern],'' Rivera said. "He's an older guy. Nagging thing. He was limited as far as running around. What you're hoping for is tomorrow he runs around and tells you it doesn't grab.''

The good news is cornerbacks Josh Thomas (concussion) and Josh Norman (deep thigh bruise) returned to practice on a limited basis. Thomas still hasn't been cleared by doctors to play, but he remains optimistic.

Rivera indicated that if Thomas isn't cleared, Drayton Florence will start at left cornerback. The veteran was among the final cuts in training camp after starting most of the preseason, but re-signed on Wednesday night.

Rivera said strong safety Quintin Mikell and backup running back Kenjon Barner are out for the Giants. He said rookie Robert Lester will start at strong safety with Mike Mitchell moving from strong to free safety to replace Charles Godfrey, who was put on injured reserve with a torn Achilles.

Carolina secondary not efficient

September, 11, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers' secondary is picking up where it left off last season -- and that's not a good thing.

Carolina had the league's worst opponent-completion percentage last season at 66.8. One week into this season, after Seattle's Russell Wilson completed 25-of-33 attempts for a 75.8 success rate, the Panthers are ahead of only Chicago (78.8) and Oakland (78.3).

Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel must be licking his chops in anticipation of Sunday's game visit from the Panthers.

And Manuel wasn't that bad in his debut against New England, going 18-for-27 for a 66.7 percentage.

The good news for Carolina after the 12-7 loss is that starting strong safety Mike Mitchell (calf) may be back this week. The Panthers also are considering using cornerback Josh Norman more -- perhaps over starting left corner Josh Thomas, who was burned for the 43-yard game-winning touchdown.

"We’ve just got to work on that on defense,'' cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said of reducing opposing quarterbacks' efficiency. "I think we only had one break-up in the back, and that’s not good being in the secondary.

"We’ve got to work on that, continue trying to get the ball out and make plays on the ball.”

Carolina defense good, but must improve

September, 10, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As well as the Carolina Panthers played defensively in Sunday's 12-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, there were areas they must improve.

The most glaring? What defensive coordinator Sean McDermott calls the four-minute defense.

Carolina had Seattle pinned at the 3-yard line with 4:42 remaining. But on second-and-15 quarterback Russell Wilson was able to connect with running back Derrick Coleman on a short pass that turned into a 12-yard gain because linebacker Jon Beason missed a tackle.

On the next play, Seattle converted for a first down and the Seahawks were able to run out the clock.

The easy explanation for what happened is the Panthers were gassed, but that's just an excuse. Was Beason tired? Well, yes. It was his first full game after missing a year recovering from a knee injury. But again, he'll tell you tired is no excuse.

Were others tired? Yes. The four-man rotation at defensive end was reduced to three when Frank Alexander was ejected for taking a swing at a Seattle lineman after a big sack by safety Charles Godfrey. He'll be fined later in the week, and coach Ron Rivera already has given him an earful for hurting the team.

But again, those are excuses.

"It's unfortunate we played such a good game but we couldn't finish at the end,'' Beason said. "It's a tough pill to swallow.''

Carolina's secondary also gave up too many plays as quarterback Wilson passed for 320 yards, his first 300-yard game, including a game-winning 43-yard touchdown pass over cornerback Josh Thomas.

As well as Thomas played against the run, look for Carolina to use Josh Norman more this week against Buffalo.

But there were far more positives than negatives. The Panthers held running back Marshawn Lynch to 43 yards on 17 carries and the Seahawks had only 70 total rushing yards. They sacked the elusive Wilson two times and pressured him countless others without using a lot of exotic blitzes.

As fellow ESPN NFL Nation colleague Terry Blount said after watching the stout Seattle defense all preseason, "The Panthers' front seven is really good.''

How good?

"Probably as good as I've been around,'' said McDermott, who was involved with some pretty good defenses at Philadelphia. "They're not there yet, but probably as good as I've been around.

"Now that people have seen how good they can be, how disruptive they can be -- I'll give you another word for potential, because I don't like that word -- [but] they have a chance to be pretty darn good.''

But there is room for improvement.
Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was a freshman at the University of South Carolina in 2006 when the coaching staff lined him up against hotshot wide receiver Sidney Rice in practice.

Munnerlyn
Munnerlyn
Keep in mind, at 5-foot-8 Munnerlyn was dwarfed by the 6-4 Rice, who was on his way to breaking the school record for receiving touchdowns.

"Everybody was like, 'Uh, oh!' '' Munnerlyn recalled.

Here's where the story gets good. The South Carolina quarterback threw a jump ball to take advantage of Rice's superior height and leaping ability. Munnerlyn, not intimidated at all, surprised everybody by coming down with the ball.

Gasps followed.

"That's how I [made] my name down there in Columbia,'' Munnerlyn said with a smile. "I don't know if you remember, but I wore No. 30. The next day I was No. 1.''

I share this story because a couple of young members in Carolina's secondary have a chance to make names for themselves in Sunday's 1 p.m. opener against Rice and the high-powered Seattle Seahawks.

Most of the talk his week is how big and physical the Seattle's cornerbacks are, and how young and inexperienced Carolina's are. That's fair considering Seattle corner Brandon Browner is a Pro Bowler, and Richard Sherman was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in July.

The Seattle cornerbacks are surrounded by Pro Bowl safeties as well.

Carolina's cornerbacks are Munnerlyn and, according to Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, the "Josh guys'' -- Josh Thomas and Josh Norman. None are big, and Thomas (5-11) has only four career starts.

On paper it looks like an "uh oh'' moment.

But as Munnerlyn reminded, this is an opportunity.

"We know they've got good corners on the other side of the field,'' the fifth-year player said of Seattle. "I've been preaching all week to JT and Josh [Norman] that when we are on the field to show what we've got.

"They're always talking about the Seattle corners, (how) they're physical. But we have a physical group, too. We'll see on Sunday who has the best game. If we outplay their secondary, I feel we'll be pretty good and win this game.''

This game indeed could come down to the secondary for both teams. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton must find a way to be more efficient against Seattle. In Week 5 last season, he completed only 45.4 percent of his passes in a 16-12 loss to the Seahawks.

The Panthers must find a way to slow Wilson, who was 19-for-25 for 221 yards and a touchdown against them last season. They must find a way to improve over last season's NFL-high 66.85 completion percentage against them.

Having a front seven that stacks up against most in the league will help if it can pressure Wilson. And as Munnerlyn reminded, last season Carolina intercepted Wilson twice -- including Munnerlyn's 33-year return for a touchdown.

So, while Carolina appears to be the forgotten secondary in this matchup, there is an opportunity to change that.

"We've just got to make plays,'' Munnerlyn said.

Panthers start season with unknowns

September, 2, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's not ideal to have question marks among multiple starters less than a week before the opener, but that's what the Carolina Panthers are dealing with heading into Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks. Let's break it down:

Strong safety: A calf injury to starter Mike Mitchell in practice last week and concussion to backup Haruki Nakamura (waived injured) forced the team to sign free agent veteran Quintin Mikell on Monday.

Mitchell sat out of Monday's practice and will be re-evaluated on Wednesday, so Mikell potentially could start after being unemployed since the St. Louis Rams released him in March.

The good news is Mikell has spent the past two seasons with the Rams, so he played the Seahawks four times as an NFC West opponent. Mitchell sounded optimistic he would be ready to go by Wednesday, saying he's the starter "until somebody tells me I'm not.'' Long-term, this could be a good thing because Mikell is an improvement over Nakamura.

"The league is about competition, so the more competition they add at every spot the better we're going to be, the deeper we're going to be,'' Mitchell said. "Maybe I was so far ahead of the competition they had to bring somebody else in.

"I'm not taking it in a negative way at all."

Left guard: Good news here as Amini Silatolu (hamstring) returned to practice on Monday. He looked so good that coach Ron Rivera backed down from last week's expectation that the second-year player wouldn't be ready for the Seahawks.

"I don't feel that way anymore, especially after seeing him today,'' Rivera said.

Rivera said Amini will start if he doesn't show signs on Wednesday that the hamstring is bothering him and gets through the rest of the week without backsliding. If he can't go, then Travelle Wharton and Chris Scott will play the position by committee.

Left cornerback: Veteran Drayton Florence's release left either Josh Thomas or Josh Norman as the starter. Rivera wouldn't say which he'll go with on Monday even though Thomas took a majority of the first-team snaps.

"They're both good, solid young football players and they need to get on the field,'' Rivera said in addressing why Florence was released after working most of the preseason with the first team.

In all likelihood you'll see both Norman and Thomas on the field at different times. Rivera said the team needs a rangy back like Norman to cover many of the tall receivers they'll face in the NFC South. Norman showed his ability in the preseason with a league-high four interceptions.

Rivera also said the Panthers need more compact, physical corners like Thomas. So it could come down to matchups.

Running back: More good news as fullback Mike Tolbert (hamstring) returned to practice and took the full load. Rivera remains optimistic he'll be ready by Sunday.

He'll need him with DeAngelo Williams the only experienced back left after Jonathan Stewart was placed on the physically unable to perform list last week.

Extra point: Rivera said the staff considered adding a quarterback to the practice squad to run the scout team after Jimmy Clausen was released. That didn't happen, so backup Derek Anderson will get the scout team snaps.

The fallout from cut-down day

September, 1, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The decision to release veteran cornerback Drayton Florence on Saturday was a good thing if your first name is Josh and you play cornerback for the Carolina Panthers.

As in Josh Norman and Josh Thomas.

With Florence gone on the left side, one will step into the starting lineup for the Sept. 8 opener against the Seattle Seahawks. The likely and popular choice is Norman, who led the NFL in preseason interceptions with four, two more than any other player.

[+] EnlargeJosh Norman
Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/MCT via Getty ImagesPanthers cornerback Josh Norman picked off four passes during the preseason.
While ESPN's statistics department isn't aware of an official preseason record for interceptions, it was able to determine that Norman is the only player with at least four since 2000. There have been 13 with three.

Is Norman ready to return to the position he lost after starting the first 12 games a year ago? It appears so.
Asked how he felt after the preseason finale, a 25-10 win over Pittsburgh in which he returned an interception 70 yards before being tackled, Norman said, "comfortable."

"I can sit out there now and just read stuff, just play off guys, and my eyes got a whole lot better,'' he continued. "I can see the field a lot better. Instead of hesitant to make a play, I'm going to make a play. I feel like that every time I get out on the field."

What has kept the second-year player from Coastal Carolina out of the starting lineup since his mistake-riddled performance against Kansas City last season has been little things such as discipline and reading his keys.

It didn't help that Carolina won its final four games after Norman was benched.

Norman knows all this, and believes his performance in training camp has proven he's ready to contribute. Coach Ron Rivera has been impressed, but hedges by saying Norman needs to continue to "learn to play within the confines of the defense.''

"I kind of get like sporadic out there sometimes,'' Norman admitted. "I see stuff faster than other guys and I want to pick up on it, but I [miss] my keys and what I know I'm not supposed to do. It comes with understanding and learning and getting out of my habits and ways.''

The good news is Carolina has a solid front seven that will cover up a lot of mistakes in the secondary because quarterbacks should have less time to throw. That makes getting a big playmaker such as Norman on the field more important.

"I'll just continue to do what I've been doing and I'll be in a good spot,'' Norman said.

The Panthers need Norman to help put a secondary, which gave up the highest opponent completion percentage (66.8) of any team in the league last season, in a good spot.

Preseason returns look promising. Although there remain some soft spots in the middle, Carolina's defense led the league with 10 preseason interceptions -- the most by a team since the 2000 Cardinals.

Yes, there's bad news. The Cardinals went on to a 3-13 regular-season record and intercepted only 10 passes. Only two teams had fewer.

But like Norman, the potential is there for Carolina to avoid that pitfall.

"We're good right now,'' said Norman, who began proving his point with two interceptions in the preseason opener against Chicago. "We just need to continue to do the little things to get us to where we are. We'll propel ourselves into being in a good spot at the end of the year."

Norman already has propelled himself to a better spot.

Carolina Panthers cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2013
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Most significant move: In the world of perception that quarterback is the most important position, the most significant move would be cutting third-stringer Jimmy Clausen, simply because the 2010 second-round draft pick out of Notre Dame was brought in to replace Jake Delhomme. He was waived injured after hurting his shoulder in the preseason finale, but would have been waived regardless.

But in reality it's cornerback Drayton Florence. He was signed to add veteran leadership and experience to a young secondary. He worked with the first team for most of training camp. But the re-emergence of Josh Norman, who led the league with four preseason interceptions, and the solid play of Josh Thomas made the aging defensive back expendable even though he returned an interception 71 yards for a touchdown against Baltimore. Norman put himself in position to reclaim a position he lost after starting the first 12 games of his rookie season in 2012. He is an exceptional talent who just needs to refine the little things to potentially become a star. The good news is Carolina's front seven is strong, which should give quarterbacks less time to throw and cover up some of the mistakes the second-year player undoubtedly will make.

Survivor 2011: Defensive tackle Sione Fua was voted off Panther island, leaving quarterback Cam Newton as the only remaining member of Carolina's 2011 draft class on the active roster. That doesn't speak well for what the staff thought of former general manager Marty Hurney's selections.

The others from that class were: DT Terrell McClain, third round pick, released in 2012; CB Brandon Hogan, fourth-round pick, waived from IR in 2012; WR Kealoha Pilares, fifth-round pick, on injured reserve; LB Lawrence Wilson, sixth-round pick, released in 2011; G Zack Willliams, sixth-round pick, released 2013.

Team moves: Waived injured -- QB Jimmy Clausen, S D.J. Campbell, WR David Gettis, S Anderson Russell. Waived -- OT Garrett Chisolm, DT Sione Fua, TE Zack Pianalto, WR James Shaw, WR Brenton Bersin, G Hayword Hicks, LB Doug Hogue, S Robert Lester, LB Ben Jacobs, RB Tauren Poole, TE Dominique Curry, WR Taulib Ikharo, G Tori Mobley, DE Craig Roh, DT Casey Walker. Terminated vested veterans -- OT Patrick Brown, CB Drayton Florence, LB Jason Williams.

What's next: Depth remains an issue on the offensive line and secondary, so general manager Dave Gettleman will be scanning the waiver wire for help in both areas. Gettleman also might be on the lookout for a serviceable running back with Jonathan Stewart on PUP for at least five games. The release of Tauren Poole leaves DeAngelo Williams and fullback Mike Tolbert (hamstring) as the only experienced backs. After that you're down to rookie Kenjon Barner and second-year player Armond Smith. But to narrow this to any position might be unwise. Gettleman has a reputation of going with the best players regardless of position.

Observation deck: Panthers-Steelers

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Starting quarterback Cam Newton wore some form of skull cap instead of his signature towel Thursday night as he played spectator in the Carolina Panthers' 25-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Well, it was terribly humid for a towel.

Otherwise, here are my thoughts on the preseason finale.
  • Two quarterbacks enough. Derek Anderson proved why he is the easy choice to back up Newton and why third-stringer Jimmy Clausen is expendable. Anderson completed his first five passes and finished an efficient 10-for-15 for 220 yards and two touchdowns. He even had an ill-advised scramble for 9 yards.
  • Who are these guys? There may be more depth at wide receiver than expected. Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon made good cases to be the third receiver behind Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell. Ginn caught five passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns, including an 87-yarder in which he blistered the Pittsburgh secondary. Hixon caught four passes for 44 yards, including a nice 23-yard third-down grab on the sideline.
  • Secondary question. Carolina needs its front seven, most of whom barely played, to have a big season to cover up soft spots in the secondary. Most of those spots are in the middle, where reserve Steelers tight end David Paulson looked like a Pro Bowler in the first half.
  • Who needs camp? Travelle Wharton moved right into the lineup at left guard after only three practices and held his own. Not bad for the former and now current Panther who hadn't played in more than a year while recovering from a knee injury.
  • Playmaker: Corner Josh Norman needs to be on the field. He had his fourth interception of the preseason, returning this one 70 yards.
  • What it all means: Absolutely nothing. Except Carolina has its first winning preseason record (3-1) since 2006.
  • What's next: Roster cuts to 53 on Saturday, but don't expect a major surprise -- unless you consider Clausen a surprise. Time to get ready for the Sept. 8 opener against the Seattle Seahawks, who will give Carolina a big test on both sides of the ball right away.

Observation deck: Panthers-Eagles

August, 15, 2013
8/15/13
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The Carolina Panthers better put in a hurry-up defense quickly.

That became apparent in Thursday night’s 14-9 preseason loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

With the defensive starters playing most of the first half, the Panthers struggled to stop Philadelphia’s fast-paced attack. The Eagles piled up 257 yards of total offense in the first half.

Carolina's defense was on its heels, reacting instead of being proactive, most of the night.

Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly’s scheme is unique, but the Panthers are going to face elements of it in the regular season. They have to play Atlanta (twice), a team that’s proficient in the no-huddle offense. They also have to face Seattle’s Russell Wilson and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, a pair of quarterbacks who can make things happen with their ability to run.

Things could have been even worse, but Carolina’s first defense was able to produce three turnovers to stop Philadelphia drives. But it’s pretty obvious the unit isn’t a finished product.

The Panthers have some work to do in getting ready for no-huddle offenses and mobile quarterbacks.

Some other quick observations on the Panthers:
  • It wasn’t all bad news for the defense. Cornerback Josh Norman had an interception on a Hail-Mary pass just before the end of the first half and cornerback Josh Thomas picked off Nick Foles early on. Veterans Drayton Florence and Captain Munnerlyn have been getting most of the first-team work in camp, but the interceptions by Norman and Thomas might put them in the mix for starting jobs.
  • I liked the fact the Panthers gave running back DeAngelo Williams 12 carries in the first half. I thought Williams was underutilized last season. He’s an explosive player and, if given enough chances in the regular season, Williams will make things happen.
  • Defensive end Greg Hardy produced a first-half sack. But give some of the credit to rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who got good penetration on the play.
  • Wide receiver Steve Smith is 34, but still going strong, largely because he runs such great routes.
  • Rookie Kenjon Barner might have hurt his chances at claiming future playing time as a return man by muffing a third-quarter punt return.
  • With receivers Domenik Hixon, Joe Adams and Armanti Edwards sitting out due to injuries, David Gettis and Ted Ginn Jr. made the most of increased opportunities. Gettis had five catches for 82 yards and Ginn had two catches for 39 yards.

Checking in on position battles

August, 15, 2013
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As we approach the midway point of the preseason, let’s do a status check on some of the top position competitions from around the division.

Left tackle in New Orleans. Coach Sean Payton said Wednesday that Charles Brown has pulled away from the competition. That could be a sign that Brown finally is playing up to his potential. It also could be a sign that Jason Smith and Terron Armstead aren’t very good. Either way, it looks like Brown will be protecting the blind side of Drew Brees. But that might not be a bad thing. Keep in mind, Jermon Bushrod wasn’t a stud when he first took over the position. New Orleans’ offensive line is built around guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs and they have a way of making everyone else on the line look good.

Strongside linebacker in Tampa Bay. Dekoda Watson has been given the first crack at the job and he hasn’t disappointed. Newcomer Jonathan Casillas also has performed well, but Watson remains in the lead at this position. Barring a dramatic change as the preseason winds down, Watson will be the starter and Casillas will be a backup and special teams player.

Right tackle in Atlanta. The Falcons still are trying to figure out what to do after losing Mike Johnson to a season-ending injury. The team is hoping second-year pro Lamar Holmes can claim the position, but he needs to use the rest of the preseason to show he’s ready. Undrafted rookie Ryan Schraeder has been a pleasant surprise. But the Falcons still could look to bring in a veteran from elsewhere if Holmes doesn’t distinguish himself.

Cornerbacks in Carolina. Veterans Drayton Florence and Captain Munnerlyn got most of the first-team work in training camp. But second-year pro Josh Norman helped his case a lot by intercepting two passes in the preseason opener. The Panthers would like for Norman to continue to emerge so they can start him and move Munnerlyn to nickel back, where he’s suited to match up with slot receivers.

NFC South Stock Watch

August, 12, 2013
8/12/13
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Now that the first round of preseason games are over, let’s take a look at whose stock is rising and falling around the NFC South:

RISING

Luke McCown. The New Orleans backup quarterback had a productive outing. He’s competing with Seneca Wallace for the backup job behind Drew Brees. Wallace has been slowed by injury. McCown has used his opportunity to put some distance between himself and Wallace.

Josh Norman. The Carolina cornerback had two interceptions in the preseason opener and returned one of them for a touchdown. Norman has spent most of camp working with the second team, but his performance could put him in contention for a starting job.

Paul Worrilow. The Atlanta rookie linebacker opened some eyes by making 11 tackles. Worrilow’s not a candidate to start, but it’s looking like he has a shot to make the roster as a backup and special teams player.

FALLING

Dominique Davis. Atlanta’s backup quarterback didn’t have a good outing against Cincinnati. The Falcons still have high hopes for Davis, but if he doesn’t show a little more in what’s left of the preseason they may be forced to bring in a veteran backup.

Da'Quan Bowers. Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano already has made it clear he expects more out of Bowers. The Bucs want the third-year player to be an every-down player at defensive end. The Bucs obviously believe Bowers has that kind of ability or else they wouldn’t have let Michael Bennett depart through free agency. But it’s time for Bowers to start living up to his potential.

Tampa Bay's special teams. Three bad special teams plays by the Bucs handed Baltimore 17 points. Special teams coach Dave Wannstedt has to get things cleaned up before the start of the regular season.

Around the NFC South

August, 12, 2013
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Time for a run through the top headlines from around the NFC South:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Backup quarterback Dominique Davis called his performance in the preseason opener “horrible’’. Davis might be being a little hard on himself, but he didn’t have a good outing. He needs to pick it up in the remaining preseason games or else the Falcons might have to bring in a veteran backup.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Scott Fowler writes that the Panthers will wear black jerseys and black pants for this week’s preseason game with Philadelphia. That combination won a contest for greatest uniform ever recently, even though the Panthers have worn it only once.

Joseph Person writes that Josh Norman has re-emerged as a candidate to start at cornerback after producing two interceptions in the preseason opener. Veterans Drayton Florence and Captain Munnerlyn have been getting the first-team work. But the Panthers wouldn’t mind moving Munnerlyn to nickel back if Norman continues to play well.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Coach Sean Payton said wide receiver Preston Parker had an exceptional game in the preseason opener. Parker caught four passes and scored two touchdowns. That kind of performance could be enough to earn Parker a roster spot.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Coach Greg Schiano said there’s a sense of urgency for the Bucs to develop a better pass rush. Defensive ends Da’Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn have to step up because no one from the outside is coming to the rescue.

Observation deck: Bears-Panthers

August, 9, 2013
8/09/13
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The muddled cornerback situation for the Carolina Panthers might be clearing up.

Second-year pro Josh Norman, who is competing with Drayton Florence, Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Thomas for a starting job recorded two interceptions in Friday night’s 24-17 victory against the Chicago Bears at Bank of America Stadium.

Norman intercepted Jay Cutler on Chicago’s first offensive play of the night to set up a quick touchdown. Norman also had an interception that he returned 60 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.

Florence and Munnerlyn had been getting most of the first-team work in camp. But Norman certainly made his case for a starting job Friday night.

Some other observations on the Panthers:

We saw the two sides of quarterback Cam Newton in some very limited playing time. He threw a great touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell on a drag route. But Newton also forced a ball into coverage and had it intercepted and returned 51 yards for a touchdown.

Rookie fullback Michael Zordich suffered a knee injury on a first-quarter kickoff. Zordich is fighting for a roster spot and the injury looked serious.

Joe Adams, who had the punt return job taken away from him last year, might have gotten some redemption with a 23-yard punt return in the first quarter.

Charles Johnson got credit for a sack, but he got plenty of help from rookie Kawann Short, who got a good push. Short looked good on several other plays.

Rookie running back Kenjon Barner got a lot of playing time and did some good things. But Barner lost a fumble. That’s not going to help him gain the trust of the coaching staff. Adams lost his job last year because he couldn’t hold onto the football and the fumble could haunt Barner.

David Gettis had a couple of nice catches. But I think Gettis faces an uphill battle to make the roster. He’s behind Armanti Edwards and Ted Ginn Jr. on the depth chart and both of those receivers made several plays Thursday night. Edwards and Ginn also have return ability and Gettis does not.

Tight end Brandon Williams had a nice catch to set up a touchdown. He came to camp as a long shot to make the roster, but he might end up sticking around.

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