It was a weird weekend for the Panthers’ safeties.
A backup linebacker played 26 snaps at strong safety Friday against the Patriots. The front office brought in several safeties Saturday for workouts, including 10-year veteran Donte Whitner.
The Panthers, though, hit the practice field Sunday with the same group of safeties they’ve had all along -- except for the three who didn’t practice because of injuries.
“Honestly, I love the group of guys that we have,” free safety Kurt Coleman said. “I’m excited with what we have here. And if the front office sees fit and they bring someone in, they do. That’s not my role. My role is to help everybody’s that here.”
The problem is four of the seven safeties still on the roster are dealing with varying degrees of injuries, which has tested the depth at the position and forced linebacker Brian Blechen to line up at strong safety in the exhibition loss to New England.
That prompted the weekend workouts for Whitner, Stevie Brown and a couple of other undisclosed safeties.
“We like who we have. But with some of the injuries we have, we most certainly have to look,” coach Ron Rivera said. “You want to make sure that the short list is a positive one.”
Help might be on the way from within the organization.
Travell Dixon, a young safety who had looked good on special teams, returned to practice Sunday after sitting out Friday with a chest injury.
Dean Marlowe, the backup free safety behind Coleman, said he feels as strong as he has since straining his right hamstring three weeks ago in Spartanburg. Trainers put Marlowe through a vigorous side session and will see how his leg responds Monday.
“It’s going to take time, just like the trainers told me. I’m in no rush to get back so I can mess around and screw myself up again,” Marlowe said. “It’s been tough. It’s frustrating not playing.”
Adding to the frustrations have been injuries to the safeties backing up the backups.
Trenton Robinson had pectoral surgery last week and is likely headed for injured reserve. Marcus Ball, another free safety, has been dealing with an apparent leg injury.
Marlowe, a second-year player from James Madison, said the safeties have to be careful not to return too soon, given the demands of the position.
“We have to open up, run, cut and do everything,” he said. “It takes a little bit more time to recover than other positions. That’s why we’re probably taking a lot longer to heal up.”
The good news is that starters Coleman and free safety Tre Boston have avoided the injury bug and played pretty well, notwithstanding Coleman’s dropped interception of a Tom Brady pass during the second quarter Friday night.
“Obviously, there’s room to grow. And that’s the promising thing. I catch a pick, things look good,” Coleman said. “We’ve just got to continue to get better. That’s the important piece of right now. So when we’re out in Denver we may not be perfect, but we’re a lot better than we were today.”
Boston thinks his chemistry with Coleman has been good, and wasn’t bothered when he heard the front office was bringing in safeties to work out.
“If you see how hurt we are, I knew it wasn’t anything personal. It’s just our team needs a third safety,” Boston said. “So bring in anybody, it doesn’t matter. It would help them help this team out regardless. We’re a big team trying to get back to the Super Bowl.”
Coleman knows Whitner from their shared Ohio State background and said hello to him Sunday morning before Whitner left town. Having played alongside Roman Harper and Charles Tillman last season, Coleman understands the value of having experienced players in the secondary and the locker room.
“I loved having those guys around,” Coleman said. “I think with age comes wisdom. So if you’ve been through it, you’ve seen a lot of different things, it’s only going to add to the group of people. And I don’t think the front office would bring in anybody that wouldn’t fit personality wise.”
“If they see fit to do that, bring ’em on in,” Coleman added. “We’re going to love ’em, probably going to be a little tough on ’em just because they’re new, regardless of age. But we’re going to love ’em.”
In the meantime, Coleman plans to continue loving the ones he’s with -- although it would be helpful if a couple of them got healthy.