Carolina Panthers GM Dave Gettleman did a miraculous job in 2013 putting together a patchwork defensive backfield in Carolina. Veteran free agents combined with a couple of UDFAs that he saw promise in equated to a slam dunk.
Much like the 2013 roster, the current roster is sprinkled with new faces that Gettleman brought in. It’s still way too early to tell, but Panther fans will be more impressed and satisfied with the 2014 secondary.
To start with, lets look at who is no longer with us from the 2013 roster:
CB Captain Munnerlyn (Minnesota Vikings)
CB Drayton Florence (Free Agent)
S Mike Mitchell (Pittsburgh Steelers)
S Quintin Mikell (Free Agent)
Captain Munnerlyn and Mike Mitchell both hit the jackpot in free-agency when they signed with the Vikings, and Steelers respectively. Munnerlyn was good, but was playing too much on the outside for the Panthers, when he is better suited to be a nickel back. No way Carolina was going to pay him what he got to be their number three CB. Mitchell stung the most of any departure on defense as he is still in his prime, and was a strong enforcer on the backend. Again, the dollar signs did not make fiscal sense for the Panthers to re-sign him.
Florence and Mikell were both journeymen that have helped many teams as the unsung player. They filled in the blanks nicely and gave the Panthers a lot of flexibility in sub-packages.
Here are the newest arrivals for 2014:
CB Antoine Cason 6’0″, 190-pounds – 27 years old
CB Bene Benwikere 5’11″, 195-pounds – 22 years old
S Thomas DeCoud 6’1″, 196-pounds – 29 years old
S Roman Harper 6’0″, 195-pounds – 31 years old
S Tre Boston 6’0″, 204-pounds – 21 years old
Cason had an average year with the Arizona Cardinals in 2013 and was released after only one season. He does have a history with Ron Rivera back when he was the DC in San Diego. Cason still has a lot of juice left in the tank and was a solid number-two corner for the Chargers while there. His height and knowledge of the system will allow Cason to return to form in Carolina opposite Melvin White.
Benwikere was the Panthers’ fifth-round selection out of San Jose State in the 2014 draft. He has already shown promise in the OTAs and will fit nicely in the slot position vacated by Munnerlyn. He is a great zone-cover corner and will probably get moved to the outside once he acclimates himself to the NFL. Benwikere (pronounced Ben-WICK-kurr-ee) is a heady player with a nose for the ball. He possesses strong hands and will thrive in DC Sean McDermott’s zone scheme.
Former Atlanta Falcon, Thomas DeCoud brings a great deal of veteran leadership to this unit. He plays well in the box and can run well with receivers. He is light on his feet but needs to take better angles to keep from the play getting behind him. DeCoud is a former All-Pro and still has a few years of good play still in front of him. His rangy size and ballhawking abilities will delight Panther Nation.
Roman Harper. The name instantly evokes memories of him battling with former Panther WR Steve Smith. That was then, and this is a new Panther locker room. Harper is still a capable safety that will have a positive impact for our secondary. He is a force in the box and packs a punch when he hits.
Fourth-round draft pick, Tre Boston is an intriguing prospect. He is very reminiscent of Mike Mitchell in that he likes to lay the lumber. Boston is nimble and has a strong physique. Once he learns to not always go for the highlight hit, he will settle in nicely.
This new influx of talent is going to pay dividends early, as well as towards the future. However, there are also some holdovers from 2013 that will pair up with these players to form a tighter, more cohesive unit.
CB Melvin White, was an UDFA last season, but found himself in a starting role by midseason. Towering at 6’1″ and 203-pounds, the 23-year old corner will play opposite Cason on the outside. White came on strong at the end of the season and secured himself a starting gig this season.
CB Charles Godfrey is the wild-card in the secondary. A former cornerback-turned-safety is turning back to corner in 2014. A ruptured Achilles ended his 2013 season in week two. He has played safety since being drafted by Carolina, but Coach Rivera thinks his final home will be at corner. Godfrey won’t be 100% until training camp kicks off in July, so he will have to prove his worth in a short amount of time.
S Robert Lester took a similar path as White as an UDFA last year. The 6’2″ lanky-Alabama DB filled in for the injured Godfrey and looked the role of a starting safety. A season of experience will give Lester the opportunity to battle with Harper. The future is bright for Lester, so paying attention to the tutelage that Harper and DeCoud bring would be wise.
White and Cason will secure the sidelines and look Benwikere will lock down the slot. Godfrey will be in sub-packages and rotate with Benwikere in the nickel, giving Carolina a lot of flexibility in disguising their attack. DeCoud will be one of the starters, while Harper and Lester rotate at strong safety. Gettleman sees this unit as stronger as the sum of their parts rather than signing a big-name free-agent.
This secondary is better from top-to-bottom Panther fans. This crew has height, strength, adequate speed, hands and a good blend of veterans and youth. It also helps that you have a linebacking and defensive line unit as impressive as we do. When players like Greg Hardy, Charles Johnson, Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Star Lotulelei wreaking havoc in front of you, good things happen. Deficiencies can be covered up and you are not depended on as much to make the highlight play.
Though speed might be lacking, the overall IQ and experience of this group is what makes them so talented. Depth and flexibility are huge on evolving defenses, and we are loaded with it this season. True, DeCoud, Harper and Godfrey might not be here in five years, but they will provide the stability needed to let White, Benwikere, Lester and Boston to establish themselves.
Panther Nation, we have a lot to look forward to on defense. We are fast. We are young. We are feared. We are balanced. Bring on Tampa!