Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott say the release of cornerback Bené Benwikere two weeks ago extended beyond productivity, and both alluded to friction between the coaching staff and third-year player.
The Panthers waived Benwikere on Oct. 7 – five days after Falcons receiver Julio Jones torched the Carolina secondary for 300 receiving yards. Benwikere was the defensive back primarily responsible for covering Jones after rookie corner James Bradberry left in the first quarter with a toe injury.
Rivera said the team wanted to play its young corners in initially explaining why the Panthers cut Benwikere, who was claimed on waivers by Miami on Oct. 10.
But with the Panthers allowing another NFC South team to run roughshod over a young and ailing cornerback group, Benwikere’s departure was brought up again Monday.
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“We’ve got young guys that are going to play and, quite honestly, Bené didn’t do the things that we needed him to do,” Rivera said.
Asked to expand, Rivera said: “We’ve got to make sure everyone’s on the same page. And if we’re not, we’ve got to get guys that are going to be on the same page and get them out there and get them playing.”
McDermott echoed Rivera’s comments about Benwikere, who was inactive Sunday for the Dolphins’ game against Pittsburgh.
“At the end of the day it’s about people doing what they’re asked to do,” McDermott said. “And to be honest with you I’m focused on the guys that are here. We do things a certain way for a certain reason.”
Benwikere, 25, was a fifth-round pick in 2014 and started 14 games with Carolina, finishing with 21 pass breakups and two interceptions. He broke a bone in his leg against Atlanta last December while chasing Jones and missed the Panthers’ two playoff games and the Super Bowl.
He told Miami reporters last week he thought he was made the scapegoat after the Panthers became the first team to allow a 500-yard passer and 300-yard receiver in the same game.
“Do I think it’s fair? No. However, I’m not the leader there. That’s how things go around there,” he said. “I really didn’t have too much of an answer once I was leaving. They were just ready to go with the younger guys. They drafted three rookies, so that’s what happens.”