Editor’s Note: With this article, please welcome Cat Crave’s newest writer: Alex Schenck!
I am a proponent of the idea that, with a defense, the Carolina Panthers could have made the playoffs this year. Though this is true, we still saw great improvement to our defensive line as backups Frank Kearse and Andre Neblett performed admirably in place of rookie starters Terrell McClain and Sione Fua. Despite the loss of Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, our linebacking corps also performed surprisingly well. One area in which I did not see improvement was in the secondary. As a result of an inability to put pressure on the quarterback, our supposedly complex zone schemes were easily navigated by nearly every starting-caliber quarterback we encountered.
Despite Captain Munnerlyn’s unabashed disgust with the idea of bringing in another cornerback, I think that’s exactly what we must do. With only a few exceptions, our secondary is largely filled with backup talent. Munnerlyn belongs at nickel, and Darius Butler couldn’t remain on a team whose talent we wish to emulate. Chris Gamble has proven this season that he is worth every penny that we are paying him, and Charles Godfrey has become an invaluable presence at safety. Aside from these two, however, we lack quality.
Before I continue, however, I must note that I am a huge fan of our Captain Munnerlyn. I say “our” because I feel that this is a true fan favorite. If you have ever heard this guy’s life story, it would make you feel both gratitude and admiration. Gratitude in that you were not dealt his hand in life, and admiration that he has been able to overcome so much. Despite his questionable measurables, Munnerlyn has proven that he can be an effective player at the highest level. Our team took the chance on him late in the draft and it has paid huge dividends. I salute you Captain, you are a true fan’s player.
But Munnerlyn is a nickel guy, and that will be where he is most successful. He proved that during his rookie year when Richard Marshall and Chris Gamble were on either side and he shined despite his height and draft status. A nickel corner is afforded the opportunity to employ the fiery playing style that we appreciate so much of Munnerlyn. He will get sacks, he will get the chance at big hits, and he may even come up with an interception or two. While he accomplished all of those things as a starting corner last season, the volume of big plays will undoubtedly increase if he returns to his natural position. More importantly, he will be a blast to watch.
This is when I drop the name Dre Kirkpatrick. He has been linked to the Panthers a great deal in recent weeks, and for good reason. Dre is a very unique player who has a very high talent ceiling. The most obvious thing about him are his measurable ( 6’3”, 190 lbs). The guy is simply a beast. He is tall, fast, and strong. NFL scouts laud defensive backs that are over six feet. Their reasoning is simple…taller corners have higher coverage potential. “Dre-K”, as he is called, is capable of covering just about any receiver in the NFL provided he develops good technique. This will also provide us with a potential solution to the “Jimmy-G Problem” (my nickname for the advent of freakishly athletic, receiving tight ends who killed us every time one was on the field).
Good news folks… “Dre-K” already has great technique! The guy has been an outstanding player for the best team in college football. Playing in the SEC has also ensured scouts that his performance has been achieved against some of the best college football talent in the country. The guy is solid in man coverage, better in zone, and infamous for his on-field physicality (particularly against the run).
Look, I’m no scout, so I’ll spare you another diatribe about “stiff-hips, below average back-pedal, etc…”. I will just say this much, a player of this caliber at the cornerback position could be essential to the future of our franchise, even in one season. Think about this…if Drew Brees takes one more second in the pocket, any one of our linebackers and defensive ends have a higher probability of making a play, thus negating some of the need for another pass-rushing presence that analysts believe we should address in the draft. I think a good cornerback can give the rest of your defense opportunities to make huge plays. Dre Kirkpatrick has the potential to be elite and, in my humble opinion, could markedly improve our entire defense in a very short period of time.
Sugar on top? Greatest lineup of cornerback names in the history of the NFL: Chris Gamble, Captain Munnerlyn, and Dre Kirkpatrick.