Rivera has faith in Panthers starting CB Thomas

By STEVE REED - AP Sports Writer
    2013-09-13 12:44

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Carolina coach Ron Rivera isn't having second thoughts about starting cornerback Josh Thomas.

Rivera said he still has faith in Thomas and will continue to start the third-year cornerback this Sunday when the Panthers travel to face rookie quarterback EJ Manuel and the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Thomas surrendered a decisive 43-yard touchdown pass to Seattle wide receiver Jermaine Kearse in the fourth quarter of Carolina's 12-7 loss to the Seahawks in the season opener.

``It was one play,'' Rivera said. ``Hopefully it doesn't become two.''

Still, Rivera said he ``absolutely'' plans to stick with Thomas.

``There's no reason not to,'' Rivera said. ``That's one play and corners are going to have those plays. The big disappointment is he missed the jam (at the line of scrimmage), he let the guy roll to the outside and get to the sideline. He knows where his leverage help is. He's got to get in better position and force the issue. But he's a good football player. There's no reason in my opinion to panic or to get him off the field.''

Thomas isn't panicking either.

He said he's too tough and worked too long to allow one play to affect his psyche.

``This game will bring you to your knees and only the strong survive,'' said the 24-year-old Thomas. ``And I'm a strong guy. I'm bred to play this sport. I'm bred to play this position.''

Time will tell on that.

This week will be his sixth NFL start.

Rivera said mistakes are expected once in a while from a young cornerback, but he's confident Thomas will bounce back.

``He's young, he's learning and he's gaining experience,'' Rivera said. ``The only way he's going to get better is to continue to play and that's what we're going to do with Josh. I think Josh has the opportunity to be a guy that could play in this league for a long time and be a starting corner for a long time.''

This game will be a homecoming for Thomas, who played his college football at Buffalo.

He was drafted in the fifth round by the Cowboys in 2011, but was waived a few months later before ever playing a regular season game in Dallas.

Thomas didn't see much action as a rookie, but started the final four games of last season for Carolina and finished with 24 tackles and seven pass breakups.

He impressed coaches with his physical play at the line of scrimmage and parlayed that into a starting job this year, beating out Josh Norman for a spot alongside veteran cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. Norman put up a good fight, recording four interceptions during the preseason.

``I'm starting because I earned it,'' Thomas said. ``Nothing was given to me and every down I played was earned.''

Despite the one gaffe on Sunday, Thomas said that won't distract him from the goals he set before the season.

``By the end of this year I plan on being one of the top five cornerbacks in the league,'' Thomas said. ``I'm going to catch everybody by surprise because nobody knows who I am. But that's what I plan to do.''

NOTES: The Panthers announced that RB Kenjon Barner (foot) and CB James Dockery (hand) are out for Sunday. ... Rivera said he expects Amini Silatolu will start at left guard Sunday after missing the Seattle game with a hamstring injury.


AP NFL website www.pro32.ap.org


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

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