The now not-so-new collective bargaining agreement calls for no two-a-day practices (in pads) and with the summer heat being at its peak, teams get a mandated day off after so many days in the sun.
For the Carolina Panthers, that would be yesterday – Wednesday. Not only did they have no practice, but got let go early on Tuesday thanks to a made 50-yard field goal by placekicker Graham Gano.
In a move typical of NFL Head Coaches in training camp, Ron Rivera had said if Gano makes the kick, the team gets to go early. A miss, and the team would have to stick around for some vague meeting hours later in the day.
As the team formed a semi-circle around and behind him, Gano got his mind focused. The team kept quiet so as not to throw off his concentration and his kick was true.
Gano is no doubt the team MVP – at least for a day.
The most notable shift I’ve seen since my last post regarding the Panthers’ training camp this past weekend is the change in the defensive backfield.
Coming into camp and in the first few days, second-year pro Josh Norman had the #1 corner spot that was more or less his to lose due to his surprisingly good rookie season and Chris Gamble’s departure, but veteran Drayton Florence now appears to be running with the starters along with Captain Munnerlyn.
Munnerlyn is my personal favorite on the defense and has impeccable character. You couldn’t meet a nicer young man – seriously. There’s a reason he’s a fan favorite and it isn’t because he’s a dominant player…he’s simply a stand-up individual that works hard and is a great role model for youngsters.
Tuesday, however, you wouldn’t be able to tell he’s not an All-Pro. He picked off a Cam Newton pass and returned it for a TD in practice and nearly had a second pick. Cam was a hair late on his timing in targeting WR Armanti Edwards (Smitty had the day off) and the 5’8″ corner made the most of it, stepping in front of the throw for the pick-6.
It wasn’t Cam’s only pick of the day as he threw a second to a reserve LB over the middle on another play. Although Cam has had a good camp overall, Tuesday was his worst day by far.
Rivera said Munnerlyn is also ahead of D.J. Moore at the nickel corner spot.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Captain Munnerlyn a few months back and he told me that the “inside guys” – the DBs who cover the slot – should get a lot more accolades.
“When you’re covering the slot, those guys can go anywhere! You think you got him covered as he breaks outside, then they go back inside! It’s HARD covering those real quick guys in the middle of the field! I don’t see why they don’t get more (attention).”
Captain’s right of course, and he also pointed out that slot receivers play off of the line, and as a result are much harder to engage in what he considers his strongest suit – press-coverage.
By the way, I love this photo of him hehehe
“Those (little) guys in the slot – it’s tough to get your hands on them since they are so quick and start off a yard deep. Since you can’t do anything after five yards and you don’t have that sideline as a second defender, it makes (covering them) that much harder.”
Munnerlyn and Florence are now the front-runners for the starting spots, but as I’ve been saying much of the offseason, the Panthers have a lot of depth in the defensive backfield now after having added Florence, Moore, and safety Mike Mitchell. With Munnerlyn returning and the two young Joshes, there’s a nice mixture of vets and youth, returners and new faces.
Charles Godfrey almost certainly will start at free safety while Mitchell continues to play well and seems to be working his own way into the starting lineup at strong safety.
So far, I’m sticking to my guns about Mitchell being the team’s ultimate pleasant surprise on defense. He’s playing like a starter and a force in the middle to reckon with and has already demonstrated his sure tackling in his few years in Oakland.
I WILL be saying “ANYONE but Nakamura” at safety pretty much for the rest of my life, but at least it’s good to see someone like Mitchell who appears to be not only a solid player, but one without any glaring weaknesses in his game.
I’m not sure of Mitchell’s measurables, but I’m pretty sure his vertical leap is better than that of the owner of the patent to the three-inch vertical, Haruki Nakamura.
Just as my last camp post wasn’t a “Hate on Teddy (Ginn)” piece, this isn’t meant to “hate on Harry” either, but he was involved in waaaay too many deflating defensive meltdown plays in 2012. I’d like to see Nakamura relegated to special teams and short yardage/goal line sets where his run defense, his strength, will serve both him and his team much better.
“I think some guys are getting more reps than others, and we’re still shuffling other players around,” Rivera said. “And we have made no definitive decisions on anything. We started out with D.J. (Campbell) at strong safety the first couple practices and now Mike Mitchell has been running with the first bunch.”
Check the following link for more news on the training camp from this week:
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