NFC South: Josh Thomas

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As I said this week, not all head-butts are created equal.

Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was penalized for a first-quarter head-butt against San Francisco wide receiver Michael Crabtree in Sunday's 23-10 loss to the 49ers, but was not fined by the NFL.

San Francisco wide receiver Anquan Boldin was not penalized for his second-quarter head-butt of Carolina safety Mike Mitchell, but was fined $7,875 by the NFL.

The penalty against Munnerlyn led to a San Francisco field goal. The lack of a penalty against Boldin after a first-down catch to the Carolina 9-yard line led to a 49ers' touchdown with five seconds left in the first half.

In other words, instead of first-and-goal from the 24, the 49ers had first-and-goal from the 9.

That had a dramatic impact in the game, as San Francisco went into halftime ahead 13-10. Had the 49ers settled for a field goal, the Panthers would have led 10-9.

Also fined, Carolina cornerback Josh Thomas was docked $7,875 for throwing a punch at San Francisco receiver Quinton Patton, and San Francisco running back Frank Gore was fined the same amount for grabbing the facemask of linebacker Thomas Davis while blocking in the second quarter.

Mitchell was not fined for hitting a defenseless defender in the first quarter, but the Panthers were penalized 15 yards for the hit. That led to San Francisco's first field goal.

Maybe all this is why Mitchell said afterwards, "I can't wait to play them [again] with a new set of refs in a new game."

Panthers could have two new corners

November, 29, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Despite a seven-game winning streak and an 8-3 record, the Carolina Panthers are auditioning for starters at both cornerback spots heading into Sunday's home game against Tampa Bay.

Not that anybody should be surprised after the way they were burned deep in a 20-16 victory at Miami.

Coach Ron Rivera said on Friday the only members of the secondary guaranteed a starting spot are safeties Quintin Mikell and Mike Mitchell.

That means Captain Munnerlyn, who is only guaranteed a role as the starting nickel back, is in danger of losing his left cornerback spot and Melvin White his right corner position.

Munnerlyn was beaten by Miami receiver Mike Wallace for a 53-yard touchdown pass and a 57-yarder that resulted in a field goal in the first half. He also was beaten deep later in the game, but Wallace was overthrown.

White struggled in the 24-20 victory against New England two weeks ago and was inconsistent against the Dolphins.

“Your job is to keep it [play] in front of you and you have to,'' Rivera said after the game. "And we’re going to address that and make sure that it gets corrected. We’re going to play the guy that will do the things we ask him to do and do them the right way.”

He obviously meant it.

While Rivera didn't name starters, he spoke well of veteran Drayton Florence, who rejoined the team in Week 3 after a rash of injuries in a 24-23 loss at Buffalo.

He also was complimentary of Josh Thomas, who started five of the first six games before being replaced after getting beaten deep in a win over St. Louis.

Rivera said the more players are pushed into opportunities the more they've taken advantage of them.

"Ever since Drayton Florence has gotten back he's made a difference,'' he said.

Reading between the lines, you could see Florence at one corner spot and Thomas at the other against the Bucs.

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.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Josh Thomas, who started five of the first six games at left cornerback for the Carolina Panthers, is inactive for Thursday night's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Thomas
Thomas lost his job to rookie Melvin White after allowing a 63-yard completion that was called back because of a penalty and a 73-yarder that wasn't in last week's 30-15 victory over the St. Louis Rams.

Coach Ron Rivera indicated on Wednesday that White would get the start, but not that Thomas would go from starter to inactive.

"Melvin White has done a really nice job,'' Rivera said. "JT (Thomas) is struggling with it right now.''

White was signed as an undrafted rookie out of Louisiana-Lafayette. He had an interception and forced fumble in Week 3 against the New York Giants when Thomas was out with a concussion suffered against Buffalo.

Thomas, fifth on the team in tackles, had been solid against the run but susceptible in the passing game.

Also on the inactive list for Carolina: DT Dwan Edwards, DT Sione Fua, TE Brandon Williams, RB Armond Smith, WR Marvin McNutt, WR Tavarres King.

Kuechly gets much-deserved respect

October, 22, 2013
10/22/13
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Here's a more detailed look at how the St. Louis Rams tried to neutralize Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly on Sunday.

In case you missed it, the 2012 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year was held to a career-low three tackles in Carolina's 30-15 victory. But it wasn't all about the linemen in front of him making plays.

Much of it had to do with a special scheme the Rams hadn't shown all season. It involved the linemen getting off their blocks on the defensive front quickly and going after Kuechly.

Let defensive coordinator Sean McDermott take it from here.

"What happened was they decided they weren't going to let Luke make a hundred tackles," McDermott said. "So they started going up to the second level to block Luke. Now [tackles Kawann Short, Star Lotulelei and Colin Cole] all have to make those plays, and they did."

Lotulelei had a career-best six tackles, two for losses. Short had three tackles, two for losses. Cole had two tackles, one for a loss.

The Rams ran the ball only 10 other times -- end Greg Hardy had four tackles on those -- so Kuechly didn't have many opportunities.

"They've got to pick their poison,'' McDermott said. "We've got tackles right now that are playing at a high level that can help us. They just made a point to go up and slip block and quick scoop to the second level and make sure Luke and Thomas [Davis] and Chase [Blackburn] aren't at the top of the stat chart as they are every week.''

Linebackers coach Al Holcomb noticed what the Rams were doing early, allowing the staff to explain to the tackles what was happening and make adjustments.

"If we're on a tandem block, or combo block, and one of us has to get to the second level to block another guy, they're going fast right now as opposed to waiting,'' McDermott explained. "They're going fast and then trying to make a one-on-one block at the first level, and that's where we were winning.''

That the Rams put so much emphasis on slowing Kuechly, who averaged 10.25 tackles a game a year ago, showed just how much they respected him.

McDermott said it's not totally unusual for teams to use that strategy.

"You saw it with the great ones,'' he said. "You guys talk to people. They're keeping an eye on Luke and I would, too.''

Kuechly didn't seem to mind, particularly since the Panthers won their second straight game and their third in four weeks to even their record at 3-3.

"All he cares about is winning,'' McDermott said. "As long as he's doing his job, which he was, that's all he cares about. He's not into stats and numbers. That's why he's such a joy to be around.''

Tipped: McDermott said safety Quintin Mikell tipped Sam Bradford's pass on the first play from scrimmage in Sunday's game, making it an easy interception for cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.

Munnerlyn returned it 45 yards for a touchdown, his fourth in five seasons.

Topped: McDermott and head coach Ron Rivera didn't want to put all the blame on cornerback Josh Thomas for two long completions, a 63-yarder that was called back because of a penalty and a 73-yarder that wasn't.

But clearly Thomas was at fault on the second one, and his susceptibility in pass protection makes one wonder if his playing time will be impacted moving forward.

Rivera simply said the best players will play.

Tapped: Rivera's forehead was dripping with sweat when he arrived for his postgame interview on Sunday, but not because of the temperature at Bank of America Stadium or the intensity from a game that had five personal fouls.

Rivera had the flu.

He's feeling much better after the win, though.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers starting cornerback Josh Thomas practically begged doctors to let him play against the New York Giants nine days ago.

He told them he felt fine, that there were no side effects from the concussion he suffered a week earlier against Buffalo.

When Dr. Jerry Petty said no, Thomas was disappointed.

Thomas
"Very, very surprised," he said Monday.

And thankful.

As down as Thomas was that he couldn't be a part of the 38-0 victory that coach Ron Rivera hopes is a catalyst for more wins, he's glad the league is taking such a hard stance on concussions to protect the long-term health of the players.

He's fortunate there are doctors thinking about him instead of what the coaches might want.

That the league reached a $765 million settlement over concussion-related brain injuries after more than 4,500 former NFL players filed suit has heightened awareness.

Thomas definitely paid attention.

"I mean, everything is for a good cause," Thomas said. "I understand the volume of what having a concussion is like. I don't take it lightly, and the NFL isn't taking it lightly. That's what you like the most, that they're taking the best interest for the players and not just themselves nowadays."

Thomas has been cleared to play this week against the Arizona Cardinals. He got it shortly after the Giants game.

Now he's back working with the first team after relative unknowns such as cornerback Melvin White and safety Robert Lester stepped up while Thomas and others were spectators.

Carolina (1-2) has gone from searching for enough players to fill the secondary to figuring out who might have to sit against the Cardinals (2-2) as safety Quintin Mikell (ankle) and defensive back D.J. Moore (knee) also are expected back.

"It's going to be an interesting week for us," Rivera said.

But it's a nice problem to have. And having players as selfless as Thomas has to make it a nicer problem.

"Because it's not about me," Thomas said. "It's about that 'W' we got in the last game."

The game may not have been about Thomas, but the decision to hold him out was all about Thomas. It wasn't that long ago that he would have been put back on the field without regard to his health.

"This game is built on entertainment and also safety," Thomas said. "You want to play the game the most safe way possible."

Stewart looks fast in PUP list comeback

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- More than a few people noticed when Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart ran at close to full speed down the sideline during Monday's practice.

Stewart
It was the first time the former first-round pick out of Oregon tested his ankles like that since undergoing offseason surgery.

"And that was exciting,'' coach Ron Rivera said.

Said Stewart, who has struggled in particular with rehabbing the right ankle, "As good as it's felt in a while.''

So could Stewart be ready to come off the physically unable to perform list in two weeks and be ready for the Oct. 20 home game against the St. Louis Rams? Neither Stewart nor Rivera wanted to get too far ahead of themselves, but Monday's workout was encouraging.

"I'm on the coaching side,'' Rivera said. "We get excited about things. [Head trainer] Ryan Vermillion and his people, they've got to be realistic about it.

"But it was really nice to see him go full ... I shouldn't say full speed, but really open up.''

A healthy Stewart would open up a Carolina offense that already ranks third in the NFL in rushing with DeAngelo Williams carrying the bulk of the load (291 yards).

A healthy Stewart could mean a return to the days when Williams and Stewart were nicknamed "Double Trouble.''

Rivera said there have been times already this season where Williams could have used a break on long drives. He also reminded that "everything is eyeing to the postseason,'' so the Panthers (1-2) don't necessarily have to rush Stewart back. A more realistic chance of seeing Stewart might be in Week 8 or 9.

On target to return this week against Arizona is another former Oregon running back, Kenjon Barner, who has been out since suffering an ankle injury in the preseason finale.

Barner definitely will be used to spell Williams and give Carolina a different look with his breakaway speed.

"He's a very diverse football player,'' Rivera said of this year's sixth-round pick. "He has the ability to run the football and catch it, and he's learned how to pass protect. A lot of [how he's used] has to do with play calling and the flow.''

Not good enough: Much of the attention before a 38-0 victory over the New York Giants was on how well Carolina practiced after an 0-2 start.

Monday's first workout after the bye weekend wasn't that good.

"Practice was good, but it wasn't good enough, and I let them know that at the end,'' Rivera said. "They did some really good things, but as we talked about, to win football games we've got to practice the whole way.''

That may be especially true coming into a game against a 2-2 Arizona team that had to rally to beat winless Tampa Bay on Sunday.

"We've just got to make sure everybody is on the same page, everybody is pushing, because we have a chance to build momentum coming off a win,'' Rivera said.

Injury updates: Starting left cornerback Josh Thomas (concussion) has been cleared to play this week after being held out against New York. Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (thigh) and safety Quintin Mikell (ankle), who also missed the Giants game, were not in pads on Monday and did not practice in full. They will be evaluated again on Wednesday.

Panthers move up during bye week

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A member of the Carolina Panthers staff joked last week that he'd never heard an NFL head coach say it was a bad time to have a bye week.

Sure enough, coach Ron Rivera said Week 4 was a good time for the Panthers (1-2) to have a bye.

Here are four reasons why:

You can't lose: Not to be a smart aleck, but when you don't play you can't lose. The Panthers actually moved into sole possession of second place in the NFC South thanks to losses by Atlanta (1-3) to New England and Tampa Bay (0-4) to Arizona. A loss by the New Orleans Saints (3-0) against Miami (3-0) on Monday night and they could close the gap on first.

But they did lose ground in that only five NFC teams had a better record going into Week 4 and seven do now.

Time to heal: Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards got another week to heal a thigh injury that sidelined him for Week 3. The Panthers need Edwards to maintain the solid rotation they want on the line. It also basically gave linebacker Jon Beason, who seems to be missing a step since returning from offseason knee surgery, a two-week break. He was in for only one play against the New York Giants. Cornerback Josh Thomas (concussion) and safety Quintin Mikell (ankle) also should be back this week.

Evaluation: The early break gives the coaching staff a week to break down everything that they've done right and wrong, and correct those things before they get too deep into the season.

Head start: Not that Arizona is lighting it up at 2-2, but the break gives the Panthers an extra week to prepare for the Cardinals. The only way the 38-0 victory over the Giants means anything is to follow it up with another victory. That didn't happen a year ago when Carolina lost five straight after improving to 1-1.

W2W4: Giants at Panthers

September, 21, 2013
9/21/13
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Either the Carolina Panthers or New York Giants will win for the first time this season in Sunday's 1 p.m. ET game at Bank of America Stadium.

Unless they play to a rare tie, that is.

Here are three keys for the Panthers:

Licking his chops: Giants quarterback Eli Manning has to be salivating over what he'll see in Carolina's secondary. There will be rookie Robert Lester starting at strong safety. Mike Mitchell is playing a new position, moving from strong safety to free. Left cornerback Josh Thomas is out after suffering a concussion in Week 2, and his backup, Josh Norman, has a deep thigh bruise. Veteran Drayton Florence is back from what he calls a "two-week vacation'' after being cut. This unit was suspect even before the injuries, allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 72.2 percent of their passes. That the Giants' passing game ranks No. 1 in the NFL makes this even more of a mismatch. But maybe this will be a reverse of last season, when New York came to town with key injuries at wide receiver and running back and posted a 36-7 victory. "If you're sleeping on our secondary, you'll get a rude awakening,'' Mitchell said.

Now or never for Newton: If Panthers' quarterback Cam Newton wants to prove he's a true leader, this is his opportunity. An 0-3 start would make him truly the "Forgotten 1,'' as the ESPN the Magazine headline suggested. But in order to take charge, offensive coordinator Mike Shula may have to turn Newton loose. So far in Shula's more-traditional attack, Newton has rushed only nine times for 53 yards. He's passed for only 354 yards. Twenty-seven quarterbacks in the league have thrown for more. The Giants haven't done much in terms of pressuring the quarterback or stopping the pass, so perhaps this is Newton's opportunity.

Playmakers make plays: That's the challenge by Carolina coach Ron Rivera. So far, Carolina has 20 pass plays of 20-plus yards. Opponents have eight. Carolina has three sacks, none from Greg Hardy, who suggested 50 was his goal this season. Opponents have seven, with Buffalo's Mario Williams collecting 4.5 last week. As mentioned above, Newton has passed for 354 yards; his counterparts have passed for 607. I could go on, but you get Rivera's points. Carolina's stars have to start starring to get this team over the hump.

Panthers: Thomas out; Edwards in doubt

September, 20, 2013
9/20/13
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers will be without starting cornerback Josh Thomas and possibly starting defensive tackle Dwan Edwards on Sunday against the New York Giants.

That's not good news for an 0-2 team that will face quarterback Eli Manning and the league's top passing game.

Team officials said on Friday that Thomas was not cleared by doctors after suffering a concussion in Sunday's 24-23 loss at Buffalo. Thomas practiced on Thursday and Friday and, according to coach Ron Rivera, passed all the necessary team tests.

But as Thomas wrote on Twitter:

Edwards missed his third straight day of practice on Friday with a thigh injury.

"Not looking good," said Rivera, adding a decision on Edwards' status will be made on Saturday.

If Edwards can't play, Colin Cole will start beside rookie Star Lotulelei.

Rivera left it open that either veteran Drayton Florence or Josh Norman would start on the left side for Thomas. Florence was signed on Wednesday night after being among the final cuts in the preseason.

Norman has been fighting through a deep thigh bruise and sprained knee.

Safety Quintin Mikell (ankle), corner D.J. Moore (foot) and running back Kenjon Barner (foot) already have been ruled out. Backup corner James Dockery (thumb/shoulder) will be a game-time decision.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers starting defensive tackle Dwan Edwards missed his third straight day of practice on Friday and is in doubt for Sunday's 1 p.m. game against the New York Giants.

Edwards
"Not looking good," coach Ron Rivera said on Friday.

Edwards has been battling a thigh injury. Rivera said a decision on his status will be made on Saturday. If Edwards can't play Colin Cole will start beside rookie Star Lotulelei.

The good news is starting left cornerback Josh Thomas practiced for the second straight day after suffering a concussion on Sunday against Buffalo.

Thomas still has to be cleared by doctors, but Rivera said the third-year player has passed all the required team tests and he is optimistic he'll be cleared by the league.

If not cleared, Rivera left it open that either veteran Drayton Florence or Josh Norman would start. Florence was signed on Wednesday night after being among the final cuts in the preseason.

Safety Quintin Mikell (ankle), corner D.J. Moore (foot) and running back Kenyon Barner (foot) already have been ruled out. Backup corner James Dockery (thumb/shoulder) will be a game-time decision.

Florence and Panthers need each other

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
5:45
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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
9/19/13
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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 DBs take wounded dog approach

September, 18, 2013
9/18/13
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers' secondary situation might not be as dire as advertised.

Starting left cornerback Josh Thomas told ESPN.com he expects to be cleared to play on Thursday. Thomas suffered a concussion in the second quarter of Sunday's 24-23 loss to the Buffalo Bills and has been undergoing the league's mandatory testing.

Mike Mitchell, who was the starting strong safety throughout most of the preseason until suffering a calf injury and losing the job to Quintin Mikell (ankle), will move to free safety to replace Charles Godfrey (Achilles, injured reserve).

Starting right cornerback Captain Munnerlyn is healthy.

So that leaves strong safety as the only spot where the Panthers will be inexperienced. Robert Lester, who was signed from the practice squad on Tuesday, will start as things stand now.

There's also a chance backup cornerback Josh Norman (thigh, knee) could be ready. And James Dockery is back after missing the first two games with a thumb injury.

In other words, the Panthers (0-2) believe they'll be ready on Sunday for the New York Giants (0-2) and quarterback Eli Manning, who is second in the NFL in total passing yards.

"If you're sleeping on our secondary, you'll get a rude awakening,'' Mitchell said defiantly on Wednesday.

Coach Ron Rivera wasn't that enthusiastic. He admitted the secondary is a concern, but it has been throughout the preseason when everybody was healthy.

What Rivera likes is the way players have stepped up, particularly Mitchell.

"He was solid,'' Rivera said of Mitchell's practice. "I'm excited about that.''

The injuries will impact the depth and ability to run nickel packages. But it shouldn't be as bad as it was on Sunday at Buffalo when the Panthers were so thin that they couldn't play nickel for a quarter, and at times had linebackers playing the slot receiver out of a base defense.

Rivera said the team will duplicate those reps in practice this week just in case. He also will rep a cornerback to play safety with the potential for only three healthy players if Mikell is sidelined.

For the most part, the Panthers are taking the wounded animal approach -- as in, you don't approach a wounded animal.

"I was a starter,'' Mitchell said. "I am a starter. I'm going to continue to be one. I love the guys in our secondary. I love the men we have. I want the guys that I have in my room.

"I cannot wait to get out and play this game. Right now we have that underdog, back-against-the-wall mentality. You've got to live for this, man.''

Panthers sticking with Josh Thomas

September, 13, 2013
9/13/13
1:43
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Thomas won't lose his starting job because he lost containment on Seattle's game-winning touchdown.

Thomas
But Mike Mitchell may have lost his starting job at strong safety when he injured his calf late in the preseason.

Coach Ron Rivera said Thomas will start on the left side on Sunday at Buffalo. He was non-committal on whether Mitchell or Quintin Mikell would start at safety.

Mikell played 75 percent of the snaps in Sunday's 12-7 loss to Seattle with Mitchell inactive.

"They're both going to play,'' Rivera said on Friday. "We've got to continue to evaluate it. Come Sunday we'll have a feeling for what direction we'll head and how we'll rotate those guys.''

As for Thomas, who gave up the deciding 43-yard fourth-quarter touchdown, he did enough other things well to remain the starter over Josh Norman.

"It was one play,'' Rivera said. "He could have helped himself out a little bit. We could have helped him out a little bit more, too, as well. It's one play. Hopefully, it doesn't become two.

"We have confidence in him. We're showing we have confidence in him. But at the same time we've got to also be smart about it, pay attention to what's happening. We have a couple of other young guys that could help us as well.''

Extra points:

O-line: Amini Silatolu, who missed the opener with a hamstring injury, will start at left guard. Chris Scott will start at right guard. Travelle Wharton and Jeff Byers will back them up.

"We can't expect Amini to come in and play 60 plays,'' Rivera said.

Chasing playing time: For all the talk about how valuable linebacker Chase Blackburn would be before the season, the nine-year veteran didn't play a defensive snap in the opener.

That should change against Buffalo, and not because the coaching staff is worried about wearing out starter Jon Beason, who missed most of last year with a knee injury.

“It wouldn’t be because [Beason] is struggling, because he’s got to work through it and we know that,” Rivera said. “It would be more so that Chase has got to start getting snaps. We’ve talked about that. He’s a veteran guy who understands the game and you don’t want him to ever get rusty.”

Blackburn signed with Carolina during the offseason after nine years with the New York Giants. He had a career-best 97 tackles and three sacks a year ago in 15 starts.

His only playing time against Seattle was on special teams. Starting linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis played all 65 snaps. Beason played 30.

Beason snap count: Rivera said Beason looked good on Friday after getting Thursday off.

"I'll take that guy that played that first three quarters last week,'' Rivera said. "He's getting in football shape. Once that happens, I'm excited for him. There's going to be a point where we hope to get 50 out of him. Right now we'll take what we can get.''

Known inactives: Running back Kenjon Barner (foot) and cornerback James Dockery (thumb) will not play against Buffalo. But Rivera is optimistic Barner may be ready for the New York Giants next weekend.

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