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Carolina Panthers open offseason workouts with position change in secondary

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Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

During the Carolina Panthers’ offseason of change, not even returning players were immune to it.

Exhibit A is defensive back Charles Godfrey, who has a repaired Achilles, a reduced salary and a new position.

Godfrey has been a mainstay in the secondary since the Panthers drafted him in the third round in 2008. He started at safety his first six seasons, and is one of eight players in franchise history with at least 10 interceptions (Godfrey has 11 career picks).

But when the Panthers opened the practice portion of their offseason workout program Tuesday, Godfrey, 28, found himself starting over at a new position.

He is now a cornerback, a position he last played at Iowa.

Godfrey is expected to practice on a limited basis during organized team activities after having surgery in September on his ruptured Achilles tendon. The Panthers have scheduled 10 non-contact practices over the next three weeks, followed by a mandatory minicamp June 17-19.

Trainers will alter Godfrey’s workload depending on how the Achilles responds.

Players used to take between eight to 12 months coming back from Achilles surgery, but the recovery period now is closer to six to nine months.

The Panthers’ goal is to get Godfrey at or close to 100 percent for the start of training camp, where he will compete for the nickel corner spot vacated when Captain Munnerlyn signed with Minnesota.

“He had success as a corner in college, and when we first got him we felt he had some nickel ability,” fourth-year coach Ron Rivera said. “So looking at that and looking at what our needs were, we felt this was the best opportunity for him to get a chance to play for us.”

Godfrey is being paid like a part-time player after agreeing to a pay cut that saw his base salary drop this year from $5 million to $750,000. He can earn $1.7 million back in bonuses – $106,250 for every game he’s on the roster.

The Panthers remodeled their secondary after Munnerlyn and free safety Mike Mitchell left in free agency. The Panthers did not bring back corner Drayton Florence or strong safety Quintin Mikell, both of whom remain unsigned.

Instead, they signed former San Diego and Arizona corner Antoine Cason and a pair of safeties with extensive NFC South experience – Roman Harper, who spent eight years in New Orleans, and Thomas DeCoud, a five-year starter in Atlanta.

But the defensive back with the longest tenure in Charlotte is the one breaking in at a new position.

General manager Dave Gettleman believes Godfrey has the size (5-foot-11 and 210 pounds), strength and “deep speed” to succeed at corner.

“He is good with the move,” Rivera said of Godfrey. “Dave and I sat down and talked with him, and Dave was upfront about what our plans were. … Dave explained everything to him and it was all about giving him a fair shot.”

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson
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