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Banged-up Panthers secondary starting to take shape for Sunday

Three days after the Panthers had most of their defensive backfield demolished by injuries, Carolina’s secondary is starting to take shape.

According to a league source, Carolina is bringing back cornerback Drayton Florence, a 10-year veteran who started for the team in the preseason but was released in the last round of cuts. It’s unclear if Florence will start Sunday against New York, but the Panthers have added some much-needed depth to their secondary.

The Panthers cut Florence in late August after liking what they saw out of their younger players. But after a slew of injuries at Buffalo, Carolina was in need of some quick help and turned to a player who worked with the first-team defense all of training camp.

Cornerback Josh Thomas is ahead of other hobbled defensive backs in terms of progress, and the third-year corner said he had gone through the necessary concussion protocol and would be ready for the Giants on Sunday.

“I expected to play since the time I got hurt (Sunday at Buffalo); I thought I’d go back in but they obviously wanted to take some precautions about it and be safe, which I understand,” Thomas said. “It’s the best way to go.”

The same can’t be said for defensive back D.J. Moore, who will miss the game with a grade 2 MCL sprain, he said. The status of safety Quintin Mikell (ankle) and cornerback Josh Norman (MCL) is unclear. Cornerback James Dockery (thumb) left practice early Wednesday but said he expects to play.

Mike Mitchell will move from strong to free safety, and if Mikell can’t play, coach Ron Rivera said undrafted rookie Robert Lester will get the start.

The Panthers brought Lester up from the practice squad on Tuesday, and Monday he was working with the first-team defense after Carolina sent Charles Godfrey (Achilles) to the injured reserve.

“Just because you’re on the practice squad, you want to go in every day, every meeting, every game plan and go about it like you’re getting ready to play a game,” Lester said. “And that’s exactly what I did. Now that I’m actually active I’m not too far behind. I know exactly what’s going on. I listen to meetings and I’m right on beat.”

Thomas called the injuries to the defensive backfield a “sensitive topic.” Rivera added that there is concern about the secondary – “I’m not going to kid you about that” – but he hopes things shake out come the final practice on Friday.

Rivera said there was some consideration to bringing in a veteran player this week to fill a roster spot, but the team liked Lester enough to keep him on the practice squad this season and bring him up this week.

“I believe in every guy we have. So even with the guys who are going to be forced to step up now, I believe they can make the plays or they wouldn’t be here,” Mitchell said.

“If you’re sleeping on our secondary, you’re going to get a rude awakening when the game comes.”

Coughlin’s loss: John Coughlin, brother of New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, died Monday night at the age of 63.

Tom Coughlin, the oldest of seven children, said he and several family members were around John in his final moments.

“In situations like this you would definitely like to pull back and be with your family,” Tom Coughlin said on a teleconference Wednesday about balancing his coaching duties and family time.

“In that experience you certainly would like to sit around and tell stories and go back to some happier times or experiences where John was involved and do those things. And for a little while I was able to do that. You do have responsibilities and you have to go to work and take care of things.”

John Coughlin’s funeral will be held Tuesday morning in Waterloo, N.Y.

Injury update: The banged-up secondary made the injury report longer than it usually is on Wednesdays, but the fallen defensive backs weren’t the only Panthers on it.

Rivera voiced “a little” concern about defensive tackle Dwan Edwards’ thigh, and running back Kenjon Barner is unlikely to suit up Sunday after not practicing Wednesday.

Barner said earlier in the week he had not run full-speed on his injured foot and that Wednesday would be a telling day.

Fullback Mike Tolbert (knee), linebacker Thomas Davis (leg) and tight end Ben Hartsock (foot) also sat out, but Rivera said it was more for rest.

Squad additions: There are now two former Appalachian State quarterbacks on the Panthers’ roster that are not playing quarterback.

Cornerback De’Andre Presley, the successor to Armanti Edwards as the Mountaineers’ quarterback, was added to the practice squad along with cornerback Greg Gatson.

The two were added after Lester moved to the active roster and wide receiver James Shaw was released on Tuesday.

Staff writer Joseph Person contributed.

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9
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