Maybe the Carolina Panthers should have held on to cornerback Bené Benwikere at least one more week.
The Panthers’ already-thin cornerback group took another hit Friday when Robert McClain was ruled out of Sunday’s game at New Orleans with a hamstring injury.
McClain started Monday night in a 17-14 loss at Tampa Bay after the Panthers released Benwikere following Julio Jones’ 300-yard receiving game in Week 4.
Starting cornerback James Bradberry, a second-round pick from Samford, will miss his second consecutive game with turf toe.
All of that means the Panthers will line up against future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees on Sunday with a corner rotation consisting of two rookies, a special teams regular and (probably) a player who was signed to their practice squad this week.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera didn’t try to sugarcoat the situation.
“It’s a high-powered, spread-you-out, throw-the-ball-downfield offense. They do have the ability to run the ball, though,” Rivera said. “You deal with it. It’s what we have. We’ve got to line up and play, so we’ll show up and play.”
Daryl Worley, the Panthers’ third-round pick from West Virginia, will make his second consecutive start at one corner spot. Rivera said fifth-rounder Zack Sanchez or Teddy Williams would start opposite Worley.
Lou Young, who joined the practice squad this week, likely will be signed to the active roster before Sunday.
Looking forward to challenge
Williams, inactive for three of the first four games, knows Brees will come out firing – and is looking forward to the challenge.
“Drew puts his clothes on the same way we do – one leg at a time with his pants and one arm at a time with his shirt,” Williams said. “The competitor that you’ve had inside since you were a little kid, you want to go out and compete against the best. So lining up across from him and seeing him over there makes me happy and anxious to go and get that first hit.”
The Panthers’ secondary looks nothing like it did during the Super Bowl season of 2015. Several veterans either retired or were not re-signed, including Saints safety Roman Harper.
But the biggest shakeup was general manager Dave Gettleman’s decision to remove the franchise tag from Josh Norman, who signed a five-year, $75 million deal with Washington two days later.
Harper said this week he wasn’t surprised to see the Panthers make over their secondary.
“Any time after the Super Bowl, your team is going to change. Whenever you have success, people are going to try and cherry pick off your players and things like that,” he said. “I know Washington is happy about getting Josh. Those are some of the things that happen. It’s just unfortunate that it’s coming to this.”
The market’s bare
Rivera said the Panthers have discussed signing a free agent cornerback, but the scouts and talent evaluators believe the market’s bare.
“There’s really nothing there. That’s part of the problem. There were a couple guys that were released and you talk about them, but then they get picked up on waivers,” Rivera said. “Our pro department’s looking to see who’s available and there’s nobody there. We go with what we have and we’ll play with those guys.”
Those guys will include backup safety Colin Jones, Sanchez or Young at nickel back, where they’ll be lined up against speedy slot receiver Brandin Cooks, who had a 98-yard touchdown reception against Oakland.
Williams called Brees a “special” quarterback and figures outsiders will view the Brees vs. the Panthers secondary as a mismatch. But Williams wasn’t ready to concede anything.
“It’s the NFL. Everyone’s here for a reason. So if you’re suited and booted and ready to go on Sunday, you have to go out prepared to play,” Williams said. “Everybody’s a competitor and I’m going to compete as hard as anybody else that’s out there.”