Carolina Panthers cornerback Kevon Seymour will not soon forget the sound the bones made when they broke.
He was in the end zone when his teammate, cornerback Ross Cockrell, accidentally collided with receiver Torrey Smith. Cockrell fractured both bones in his lower left leg.
Seymour won’t forget the look on Cockrell’s face, or his screams of pain. Nobody in attendance at Monday’s practice will.
But instead of dwelling on the horror of the injury itself, the Panthers defensive backs all got together this week to agree on a theme for the year: They will dedicate the 2018 season to Cockrell.
“He’s nothing but a great dude, a great person, a great player,” Seymour said. “It was so tough to see him go down like that. I was at a loss for words. I’m hurting for him.”
Cockrell, a Duke graduate, was drafted in the fourth round by the Buffalo Bills in 2014. A Charlotte native, he has yet to play a game for his hometown team, which brought him in as a free agent in the spring.
Yet he’s already made a huge impression in the defensive backs room.
“You know what’s interesting? Ross is one of those guys who fit,” coach Ron Rivera said. “From the day he got there until now, and still now, he has that kind of ability that you want on the football field, but more importantly he’s a guy you want in the locker room. And I think that’s why those guys got together and talked about wanting to dedicate this year to Ross.
“He’s a solid person. And I think that’s one of the more important things. What kind of guy is he? He’s a good guy.”
A huge difference
Cockrell, 26, was not necessarily a guaranteed starter this fall, but what he was able to do early on for the entire position group made a huge difference. Through the spring and the beginning of camp, coaches played clips of Cockrell’s practice film for the rest of the defensive backs as an example of proper positioning and technique.
Seymour even took his study of Cockrell a step further. He said that he has actually seen all of Cockrell’s film from his career, even though they hadn’t met until this season.
“I felt like I knew him personally (even before meeting him),” Seymour said. “I used to tell him all the time, ‘Bro I used to watch you play!’ ”
That film study leads to football savvy and consistency, which is something Seymour hopes sets him apart as he battles for the starting job opposite third-year cornerback James Bradberry.
“You just want to show the coaching staff that they can trust you,” Seymour said. “You can’t go out there if they can’t trust you, if they have any doubt that you’re going to make a mistake or not do your job, they just won’t put you out there.”
Trading big plays
Right now, Seymour is competing with rookie second-round pick Donte Jackson, who on Wednesday was a walking highlight-reel with three consecutive pass breakups, two of which were against top receivers Devin Funchess and D.J. Moore.
But the two have traded big plays as camp has entered its second phase.
“We’ve got a really good battle to see who is the starter,” Rivera said. “And we’ve got a really good battle to see who is going to get playing time.
“I just want to continue to see these guys compete, and we’ll really start making decisions when we start getting into the preseason games, see who is stepping up and who is playing well.”
Through the Panthers’ sixth practice, the team has had seven playbook installations. As Rivera put it after Wednesday’s workout, this is the time to show retention and translation of information.
“Anybody could be starting any day of the week,” Seymour said. “You know how it is. You literally have to perform every day of the week. This job varies from week to week.”
But the big-picture plan of the secondary is starting to unfold.
Carolina has two very different players in Seymour and Jackson.
Seymour is quiet, bigger-bodied than Jackson and Corn Elder, and has a year in the Panthers’ system. Jackson is chatty, lightning-fast and fixes rookie mistakes midplay.
As it turns out, their differences are kind of the point. It’s likely the two will rotate with each other based on the types of receivers matching up with them.
“Obviously the size and strength, there is a little bit of a difference in terms of play strength,” Rivera said. “They’re both fast. Both have good inline speed. You see Kevon stronger at the point, but you see Donte with the quickness and speed.
“So it will be about matchups (week to week and snap to snap). It will be about who is going to cover who, and what the best matchup would be in certain situations, especially in-game situations.”