Rivera: Panthers to rely on young CBs this season

By STEVE REED - AP Sports Writer
    2013-09-02 16:31

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera still hasn't decided who'll start at cornerback Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks in the season opener.

The only thing that's guaranteed is it will be a young, inexperienced player.

Carolina's cornerback position was thrown into a state of flux Saturday when the team abruptly released veteran Drayton Florence, who'd been working with the starters for most of the preseason.

Rivera said the decision to release Florence, who was the most experienced member of the secondary with 99 career starts, was made primarily because he wanted to give young cornerbacks Josh Thomas and Josh Norman a chance to develop into long-term starters.

``They're both good solid young football players who are getting better and better and they need to get on the football field - both of them,'' Rivera said.

Rivera said he expects to have a better idea on Wednesday who'll start at cornerback.

The Panthers kept six cornerbacks on the roster, including Captain Munnerlyn, who will start at the other cornerback spot. Munnerlyn accounted for Carolina's only touchdown in last year's 16-12 loss to the Seahawks.

One thing is for sure, the Panthers enter the season very young at cornerback.

Munnerlyn has started 34 NFL games, but Carolina's other five cornerbacks have only 21 combined starts between them.

Norman has started 12 games; Thomas four.

Still, the Panthers are high on both young players.

Rivera called Thomas a more compact, physical player and said Norman is longer and ``rangier'' than most cornerbacks.

``They're different styles, but what you would love to do is have those guys develop into full-time starters,'' Rivera said. ``That would allow you to be able to match up (against opposing players) differently. In our division you need long, rangy guys, and you need compact guys who are physical as well. With those two guys we have what we're looking for in terms of the long term.''

Although Rivera remained mum on whether Norman or Thomas will start, Munnerlyn gave a possible hint.

After Monday's practice he said, Munnerlyn said ``As of right now it looks like me and Thomas.''

Cornerback isn't the only position where Rivera is waiting to name a starter.

He's also waiting to see if left guard Amini Silatolu and strong safety Mike Mitchell can recover from injuries before Sunday's home game.

Mitchell remained out of practice Monday with a strained calf, while Silatolu returned to work after missing the latter part of preseason with a strained hamstring.

The Panthers have made roster moves just in case they can't play.

Last week they added veteran guard Travelle Wharton to the roster, and on Monday they signed free agent safety Quintin Mikell from the St. Louis Rams. Together they've started 190 career NFL games. There's a chance both veterans could be pressed into a starting role against Seattle.

Mikell, who started 32 games the last two seasons for the Rams, said he wouldn't have any problem stepping into the lineup.

He's played for Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott in the past with the Philadelphia Eagles.

``It's just like riding a bike, it came right back to me,'' Mikell said after Monday's practice. ``There are some things I have to polish up on but it was pretty good day.''

NOTES: Panthers FB Mike Tolbert, TE Ben Hartsock and WR Armanti Edwards all returned to practice after missing the last preseason game with injuries. All three are expected to be ready for Seattle. ... The Panthers signed WR Brenton Bersin, WR James Shaw, DT Casey Walker, RB Tauren Poole, S Robert Lester, DE Craig Roh and LB Ben Jacobs to the practice squad. All seven players attended training camp with the team.


Online: AP NFL website www.pro32.ap.org


Follow Steve Reed on Twitter: http://twitter.com/SteveReedAP

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