Carolina Panthers

Critics say Carolina’s secondary needs help. What do Panthers starters say?

Carolina Panthers defensive backs Captain Munnerlyn and Kurt Coleman say they’re ready to prove their critics wrong in the team’s season opener.
Carolina Panthers defensive backs Captain Munnerlyn and Kurt Coleman say they’re ready to prove their critics wrong in the team’s season opener. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

This offseason, the Panthers’ secondary depth – or lack thereof – has been oft-criticized, and when he was younger, Captain Munnerlyn would have heard that chatter.

But as a nine-year veteran in his second stint with Carolina (Munnerlyn was drafted by the Panthers in 2009 and played for them until 2013), that isn’t the case.

“Back in my younger days, I used to be reading everything like, ‘Man,’” Munnerlyn said. “But now I don’t read into it. I just try to keep rolling, keep the clock ticking.”

Munnerlyn and the rest of Carolina’s starting secondary – including cornerbacks Daryl Worley and James Bradberry, as well as safeties Mike Adams and Kurt Coleman – spoke at the Charlotte Touchdown Club’s Panthers’ Kick Off Luncheon on Friday, and their message was one and the same. The media can say and write what it wants about their unit, but they aren’t paying attention.

“I’m gonna be honest, I don’t read too much of the media,” Coleman said. “A lot of the things that you guys may hear or say, it has no bearing on what I want or what the front office wants. It’s just kind of hearsay, so I think you just have to blur that out.”

That criticism originated last offseason, when the Panthers put the franchise tag on All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman. Then, the Panthers rescinded that tag, making Norman a free agent. Weeks later, he signed a five-year, $75 million dollar deal with Washington that made him the NFL’s highest paid cornerback.

There was no realistic way for the Panthers to replace Norman, but they attempted to do so via the draft. They added Bradberry in the second round out of Samford, Worley in the third round out of West Virginia, and Zack Sanchez in the fifth round out of Oklahoma (Sanchez was waived/injured Friday with a groin injury suffered in Thursday’s preseason finale).

The results were, as expected, mixed. While both Bradberry and Worley showed flashes of excellence, especially down the stretch, both struggled with rookie mistakes. Now in their second seasons, they’ll have an opportunity to show what a difference a year in Carolina’s system makes.

But behind them, that once-questionable depth got even slimmer. The Panthers waived/injured Sanchez and put fellow backup corner Teddy Williams on injured reserve on Friday. Corn Elder (out with a knee injury) was put on injured reserve Sunday. Undrafted rookie free agent Cole Luke (who was burned for a deep touchdown Thursday) and Kevon Seymour, acquired in a trade with Buffalo for receiver Kaelin Clay on Saturday, are the backups at the corner.

At safety, Coleman and Adams are secure in their starting roles, with veteran Colin Jones and undrafted rookie safety Demetrious Cox, claimed off waivers Sunday, behind them.

There have been a number of new imports this cut weekend, but for now the guys in the locker room are the guys, and they’re motivated to prove their doubters wrong.

“Honestly, everyone’s going to have their opinion,” Worley said. “We’ve just got to go our there and do our jobs.”

Brendan Marks: 704-358-5889, @brendanrmarks

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