The Panthers’ cornerback depth was tested in a big way Saturday — but the few remaining healthy corners showed up well.
The Panthers were missing four corners with various injuries following Thursday’s exhibition, including No. 1 cornerback James Bradberry, who’s been dealing with a groin issue. LaDarius Gunter (concussion), Cole Luke and Corn Elder also were sidelined, while Kevon Seymour was excused following the birth of his child.
That left three available corners — Captain Munnerlyn, rookie Donte Jackson and Lorenzo Doss, all of whom drew praise from the head coach.
“My hat’s off to the way Captain and Donte and Lorenzo Doss practiced. Those three guys pulled yeoman’s work today and really did some nice things out there,” Ron Rivera said. “So (the depth) was most certainly tested. But hopefully we get a couple guys back (Sunday).”
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Munnerlyn, in particular, had a terrific practice — and a loud one. He smack-talked back and forth with quarterback Cam Newton the entire practice, even on plays when neither were on the field.
After backup quarterback Garrett Gilbert threw a touchdown strike to rookie receiver D.J. Moore in front of Munnerlyn, quarterback Newton yelled: “Easy money! Easy money!”
On the very next play during the red-zone drill, Munnerlyn picked off Gilbert and yelled back at Newton: “Easy money!”
Later against the first-team offense, Munnerlyn batted a Newton pass that safety Mike Adams intercepted in the end zone.
Jackson, the second-round pick from LSU, also had a good showing. The former college sprinter jumped a sideline route by Devin Funchess to knock away a Newton pass. The two battled for most of the day.
Defensive coordinator Eric Washington said he liked the energy Munnerlyn brought to the practice field.
“We are a confident group. We are non-apologetic. We’re not gonna back down,” Washington said. “And it’s all in fun out here. At the end of the day we’re brothers. But I want guys to play and compete with confidence, and expect to win.”
▪ Veteran defensive end Julius Peppers continues to progress from his offseason shoulder surgery. Peppers wore his helmet and worked on the side Saturday, two days after a vigorous workout with strength coach Joe Kenn before the exhibition in Buffalo. Rivera said he does not expect Peppers, a 17-year veteran, to play in any preseason games.
As for the Week 1 game vs. Dallas?
“Absolutely,” Rivera said. “I think that’s what we’re targeting more than anything else.”
▪ Rivera said it’s “tough to say” whether injured right tackle Daryl Williams will begin the season on injured reserve, which would require him to miss the first eight weeks. Williams dislocated his kneecap and tore his MCL during the first full-pads practice of camp, and has been rehabbing in Charlotte.
A source told the Observer last week that Williams starting the season on injured reserve would be a “likely route,” but that no official decisions had been made and won’t be made until the 53-man roster takes shape.
“We’ll see how he is when we break camp on Monday,” Rivera said.
▪ Reserve guard/tackle Dorian Johnson was carted off the field with an unspecified ailment. Backup guard/tackle Jeremiah Sirles did not practice.
▪ The team was in shells on Saturday, but that didn’t stop linebacker Shaq Thompson from making another big play. He punched the ball out of running back Christian McCaffrey’s arms on a carry, right into the arms of safety Da’Norris Searcy.
▪ Linebackers Andre Smith (hamstring), Ben Jacobs (groin) and Jared Norris did not practice, giving rookie Jermaine Carter Jr. plenty of opportunities to fill in on second team.
▪ Center Tyler Larsen did not practice, either, but veteran starter Ryan Kalil did. When Kalil was spelled, third-string center Greg Van Roten, who is playing first-team guard, slid over to play center. Then rookie undrafted free agent Brendan Mahon came in at left guard.
▪ Linebacker Luke Kuechly showed his smarts on a Newton pass when he jumped the route and stretched for an interception. He ran it back as the crowd yelled “LUUUUUUUKE!”
▪ It was a scorching day in Spartanburg, so how did Newton end the practice? By dumping a cup of ice water on Kuechly’s head.