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Panthers bring back cornerback Florence back after ‘2-week unpaid vacation’

Typically when a player with gas in his tank gets cut, he stays busy by going to a local gym or high school football field to keep up his conditioning.

Not 11-year veteran cornerback Drayton Florence.

“Nah, I pretty much do everything at the house,” said Florence, who signed with the Panthers Thursday after spending the preseason with Carolina before getting released in late August.

“Playing a lot of football with my son, going to swimming lessons with him, chasing my daughter around. I’m a pro; I know how to stay in shape. That’s not the issue. The issue is getting back in and jelling with the guys and hopefully everybody can be on the same page.”

Carolina brought Florence back after a rash of injuries last week against Buffalo caused the Panthers to be slim in the secondary. Florence spent all of training camp and the preseason working with the first-team defense and had an interception return for a touchdown against Baltimore.

But Florence was released in the final round of cuts when the Panthers opted to go for younger talent at the position.

Florence said anytime “you get fired from a job it’s tough,” but he had joked with fellow cornerback Captain Munnerlyn that he really only took a two-week, unpaid vacation.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said it was like Florence never really left.

“He did a nice job understanding what we did, the concepts we’re using for this game,” Rivera said. “He fit right in. It’s interesting but veteran guys like that do make the transition easily.”

Rivera did not say who would start at cornerback, but it will likely be some combination of Munnerlyn and Josh Thomas or Florence. Thomas (concussion) participated in individual drills Thursday but has not been cleared for full practice by the doctor.

Mike Mitchell will start at free safety and undrafted rookie Robert Lester will start at strong safety. Rivera confirmed Quintin Mikell, who hasn’t even been at walk-throughs after suffering an ankle injury, will not play Sunday.

Cornerbacks D.J. Moore (knee) and James Dockery (thumb/shoulder) did not practice Thursday. Norman, like Thomas, was limited in practice (thigh) but expects to play against the Giants.

“It feels good to be back,” Florence said. “Eleven years in a row I’ve been on an opening-day roster and this year was a first. I’m ready. This is my opening day this week. I’m going to try to take advantage of that.”

Steady Hardy: Coming off a career-high 11-sack season last year, Greg Hardy has yet to produce a sack through two games.

He trusts that, after his offseason conditioning and refining his techniques, the sacks will come in time.

“The numbers will be there. But all I can do is focus on New York and doing my job,” Hardy said. “If I have 15 sacks and we’re 0-16 then no one’s going to give a (flip) about my 15 sacks.

Hardy was close to getting his first sack on Buffalo’s final drive last week. He got a hand on Bills quarterback EJ Manuel and nearly took him to the ground with 29 seconds remaining, but Manuel stayed on his feet and completed a 4-yard pass to C.J. Spiller.

A Hardy sack on Manuel would have meant the possibility of one or two more plays for the Bills before the end of the game. Instead, Manuel was able to work down the field and eventually find the end zone with two seconds left.

“It was a terrible play by me and a great play by him,” Hardy said. “He’s a great athlete, I’m a great athlete. I didn’t want it as much as he did. I just got to step up. I’m living in that moment right now but I just have to get past it before New York comes and be myself.”

Barnes barb: Jets linebacker Antwan Barnes scoffed at Mario Williams’ 4 1/2-sack performance against the Panthers earlier this week, and those comments made their way back to Charlotte.

“I mean it’s the Panthers we’re talking about,” Barnes said with the laugh to Newsday.

Defensive end Charles Johnson fired off a tweet Wednesday saying, “Who the hell is Antwan Barnes from the jets #neverheardofhim.”

Rivera had heard of him after spending the 2010 season with him in San Diego.

“I know Antwan. That’s Antwan’s opinion,” Rivera said. “That’s his opinion and we just move on. We’ll show up and play on Sunday and we play the Jets this year, too, so we’ll see.”

Injury report: Along with Mikell not playing Sunday, Rivera confirmed rookie running back Kenjon Barner (foot) will not play. He did not participate in practice Thursday.

Rivera expressed concern that veteran defensive tackle Dwan Edwards may not be able to go against the Giants as he continues to nurse a hamstring that’s bothered him since the preseason.

“He’s a veteran guy, he’s an older guy and this has been a nagging thing,” Rivera said.

“But what you’re hoping for if he gets up and runs around and he tells you it doesn’t grab then you feel good about it. So we’ll see how he is (Friday).”

Linebacker Jon Beason (knee) had his weekly day off and is expected to play Sunday while fullback Mike Tolbert (knee), linebacker Thomas Davis (tibia) and tight end Ben Hartsock (foot) fully participated.

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