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Ron Rivera having to play projects hurting Panthers' growth

10/21/2014

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- One of the interesting moments following Sunday’s 38-17 loss at Green Bay came when Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera was asked if he planned any personnel changes.

Rivera stared at the reporter for a second, then said, "I played everybody we had."

The snap count reveals just that.

Rivera actually played some more than he ever imagined due to injuries on the offensive line. Undrafted rookie David Foucault wound up with 30 snaps (42 percent of the plays) at left tackle after Byron Bell suffered an elbow contusion.

The Canadian player is considered a project at 6-foot-8 and 305 pounds. He likely would have been on the practice squad this season to develop, but the Panthers were afraid another team might snatch him up. He had only 11 snaps prior to Sunday.

That he had to face one of the league’s elite pass-rushers in linebacker Clay Matthews was unfortunate. According to Pro Football Focus, Foucault graded out at a minus-4.3. Bell didn’t do all that much better, grading out at minus-2.4 in 41 snaps.

"He got beat a few times, one on a bull rush where he got pushed all the way back to the quarterback and then another a guy tried to dip him and he was able to wash," Rivera said. "But you see the potential and growth."

Guard Andrew Norwell, an undrafted rookie out of Ohio State, had been inactive the first six games. He played 60 snaps (87 percent) when right guard Trai Turner went down with an ankle and knee injury in the first quarter.

Only two players -- right tackle Nate Chandler and left guard Fernando Velasco – played more on offense.

If starting left guard Amini Silatolu (calf) doesn’t return this week against Seattle, either Norwell or Chris Scott -- currently on the practice squad -- likely will get the start there. If Silatolu is back, Velasco will move from the left to right side.

Rivera said Norwell, 6-6, 310 pounds, was "fun to watch." So did offensive coordinator Mike Shula, talking about how physically imposing Norwell is when he uses proper technique.

Again, not the players either expected to be protecting quarterback Cam Newton and producing an effective running game.

Defensively, Rivera didn’t have many options and used them all. Rookie strong safety Tre Boston took his first nine snaps of the season. The former North Carolina standout missed most of the offseason workouts and training camp recovering from a sports hernia.

He was another player the Panthers didn’t want to risk losing by placing him on the practice squad.

Cornerback James Dockery, cut at the end of training camp and re-signed two weeks ago when Josh Norman suffered a concussion, got seven snaps. Don’t be surprised to see him get a few more opportunities at nickel corner until rookie Bene’ Benwikere (ankle) returns.

Veteran Charles Godfrey, who replaced Benwikere, appears better suited at safety. Godfrey was responsible for three of the team's season-high 11 missed tackles against Green Bay.

Now you see why Rivera stared. Between injuries and poor play, he’s really out of options when it comes to personnel moves.