Well, it looks like Ron Rivera’s uncertainty over Captain Munnerlyn’s ability to play tomorrow has been vindicated in the worst possible way. The No. 2 corner has been placed on the injured reserve with a hamstring injury that was sustained in last week’s game against the Houston Texans. He was previously suffering from a minor ankle injury that had him listed as probable heading into the game.
Former Patriots cornerback Darius Butler will start in the nickel with former seventh rounder R.J. Stanford starting in Munnerlyn’s place. Stanford recorded four tackles last week in his most notable appearance this season, while Butler has been a steady presence in the secondary. After struggling as a rookie with the Pats last season, Butler has really turned things around under the tutelage of Ron Rivera. A common criticism was that Butler wasn’t physical enough in New England, but that has definitely changed in his first season with Carolina. Butler’s emergence has been a pleasant surprise for the Panthers; one of many this season.
At the beginning of the year, Munnerlyn was playing very well, but his play definitely leveled off as the season wore on. Part of this seems to be due to injury, and it is probably a good thing that Munnerlyn is finally getting some rest. Losing a quality CB obviously hurts, but the backups should be able to do enough to keep things stable in the secondary. We should also expect to see Brandon Hogan, a rookie out of West Virginia, receiving more playing time. Hogan made his NFL debut last week after missing most of the season with an injury. He’s a talented player who plays well in zone coverage with his defensive instincts, and I don’t think the baggage he carried with him from college will be much of an issue going forward. I have yet to hear complaints about Cam Newton’s or Greg Hardy’s character so far, and both had character issues coming out of college.