SPARTANBURG During an interception drill in the early portion of Saturdays practice, free safety Charles Godfrey leaped for the ball, came down with it and took off in a sprint.
Godfrey and the rest of his defensive teammates hope to do a lot more of that this season.
After finishing in the bottom half of the league standings last season in interceptions (tied for 23rd with 11) and total takeaways (tied for 18th with 23), the Panthers have made forcing turnovers a big emphasis.
The good defenses, they take the ball away, Godfrey said. We finished pretty good last year. But we werent the No.1 defense, and thats where were going to be the No. 1 defense.
Though the Panthers finished 10th in total defense in 2012, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott wants to see more takeaways this season. Carolina tied for ninth with 39 sacks in 2012, and thinks it improved its pass rush with by drafting defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short with its first two picks.
McDermott said a fierce pass rush and big plays go hand in hand.
Thats one of the things that were trying to do is take the ball away, McDermott said. And thats an attitude, and you establish it in training camp.
Godfrey finished with two interceptions each of the past two seasons, but believes his move from strong to free safety will put him in better positions to make plays.
I need eight interceptions. Thats my goal, he said. I marked that down before we even started (offseason training activities) and Im sticking with that. Anything more is a bonus.
Godfrey said he feels comfortable as the last line of defense, and couldnt stop thinking about his new position during the six-week break after minicamp. With the release and subsequent retirement of Chris Gamble, Godfrey is the Panthers active interceptions leader with 11.
I want to be the guy back there to where if the offense needs something, then Im able to be back there and take that away, Godfrey said. I want to give Cam (Newton) and them that ball back. So when that balls in the air, I want to have the opportunity to make the play in the back end.
Kugbila sidelined: Rookie guard Edmund Kugbilas NFL career is off to a rough start.
The fourth-round pick from Valdosta (Ga.) State injured his hamstring during Saturdays second practice. The injury comes after Kugbila missed most of OTAs and minicamp with a left knee injury.
Kugbila was carted to the training room after he was injured during a drill early in practice.
He tweaked his hamstring, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. So well see how he is and well treat him day by day.
Rivera said Kugbilas injury probably was related to his inactivity during the spring, but pointed out that hes not a doctor. Kugbila was working with the second team, behind starting right guard Geoff Hangartner, before getting hurt.
Kugbila was slated for extra conditioning work in Spartanburg because of the time he missed in the spring. He said last week he would only need a couple of days to get into shape a timetable that might need to be revised.
• Two of the players involved in the competition at strong safety had interceptions. Mike Mitchell picked off Cam Newton on a pass intended for tight end Greg Olsen, while undrafted free agent Robert Lester had his second interception in as many days.
Lester made another nice play, stripping the ball from fullback Richie Brockel on a short completion. Rivera likes Lesters abilities, but noted that his reps have been coming against second- and third-teamers.
Tight end Nelson Rosario, a former UCLA wide receiver, showed off his hands with a couple of nice catches. But his issue is blocking. At 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, Rosario isnt yet strong enough at the point of attack.
• Rivera shortened a few individual drills so players had time for extra conditioning after practice. Newton took advantage of it, doing 100-yard runs that included an up-down every 10 yards.
• The Panthers will have their first full pads practice at 9:15 a.m. Sunday. Predicting the first full-pads scrum will take place at 9:55.
3 questions with Captain Munnerlyn
Q: Didnt you go to the NBA Finals?
Yeah, Thomas Davis was down there with me. Jon Beason, being from Miami, had a little connection down there for the Finals. It was crazy. A great experience. They always say Im a LeBron fan, Im not a Miami Heat. But hey, hes with Miami so Im a Miami Heat and a LeBron fan.
Q: Any celebrity sightings?
Yeah, its Miami. Youre going to see everybody. I actually was sitting by A.J. Green. You see all the rappers down there and stuff.
Q: Would you think about moving down there?
No. I dont want to move down there. Im from Mobile, Alabama. It moves too fast for me. I love Charlotte. Its just right.
Getting to know
S MIKE MITCHELL
Height: 6 feet
Weight: 210 lbs.
NFL experience: Fifth season
The scoop: A backup safety for four seasons in Oakland, the former second-round pick signed with Carolina for a chance to start. Mitchell is competing with several players for the strong safety spot. A physical player, Mitchell had a career-high 13 tackles last season against New Orleans.
Twitter handle: @MikeMitchell34
Recent tweet: Golf is the hardest sport ever!!!!!!!
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email email@example.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less