Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera replaced rookie starting cornerback Josh Norman on Sunday, a move he said had been in the works for a week.
Rivera has focused on evaluation as a disappointing season winds down, typically by resting veterans in favor of rookies and second-year players.
Sunday he sat Norman, a rookie, in favor of second-year corners Josh Thomas and James Dockery.
We wanted to see what Josh Thomas could do in a starting role, Rivera said. And then also (Sunday) we wanted to find an opportunity to play Dockery. I figured half a game would be a pretty good opportunity to see what Dockery could do.
The big thing and the overlying message there is its about seeing who can make plays when you get an opportunity, and thats what were looking for.
Thomas had two tackles while playing 64 of the 65 defensive snaps Sunday, and Dockery had six tackles in 47 snaps. Norman played nine defensive plays and made one tackle.
Norman had been the starter for the first 12 games, beating out incumbent Captain Munnerlyn, who returned to a starting role when Chris Gamble went down for the season.
Norman said Sunday the reason for his benching was something were going through, and left it at that.
The Panthers (4-9) allowed 342 yards passing and two touchdowns. Linebacker Thomas Davis had an interception, and Atlantas longest passing play to 21 yards.
Other chances: Other young players who had opportunities Sunday were kick returner Armond Smith and defensive tackle Frank Kearse.
Smith, activated from the practice squad last week, returned three kicks for 54 yards, with a long of 26. He also was involved in coverage teams.
Weve activated guys off the practice squad because we believe they deserve it, Rivera said. Armond Smith is a great example. I loved the way he returned those kicks. And then he got an opportunity to cover a kick and made a tackle around the 11.
Kearse started in place of injured defensive tackle Dwan Edwards and got his first career sack. He recently spent four weeks on the practice squad.
He took his game to a whole new level, Rivera said. He did some really good things the last couple weeks in practice. I guess when he got demoted, and had the opportunity to come back, hes made the most of it. Hes played very well over the last few weeks.
Injury watch: Rivera didnt have an update on safety Haruki Nakamura (groin) or center Geoff Hangartner (knee) on Monday.
Nakamura, who had been playing with a left groin injury, said he heard a pop during the game. Hangartner injured his knee in the third quarter, and Rivera said he believed it was a posterior cruciate ligament sprain but was meeting with the trainers after his press conference to learn more.
Rivera also said of the starters who were out Sunday, he feels wide receiver Brandon LaFell is most likely to return next week against the Chargers. Among starters, Edwards, LaFell, linebacker James Anderson, safety Charles Godfrey and running back Jonathan Stewart did not play Sunday.
Flipping Cam: Cam Newtons somersault into the end zone on his 72-yard touchdown run had his offensive coordinator holding his breath.
Newton used a Steve Smith block to get near the goal line, then flipped into the end zone while absorbing a hit from an Atlanta defender.
Thats part of one of the unique things about Cam is how much fun he has playing the game and enjoying playing the game, Rob Chudzinski said. Id prefer hes not doing flips in the end zone when guys are flying around him but thats part of him and thats part of what makes him tick and what drives him.
That enjoyment playing the game creates an excitement. You have to try to temper some of those things but you dont want to take away some of that excitement.