A player never wants to get more playing time because of an injury, but that’s what happened to Panthers rookie safety Rashaan Gaulden on Friday night against Miami.
Starting safety Da’Norris Searcy, a consistent and stable presence in the defensive backfield, left the game in the first quarter after a badly angled hit and entered the concussion protocol.
So Gaulden, who has been relearning the safety position and the team’s big nickel sub-package, entered the game a little earlier than he otherwise would have.
“Just as a secondary we have the ‘next man up’ mindset,” Gaulden said. “Obviously I wanted to bring that same energy he brings to the field every time he steps out there. He’s been consistent for us all camp, so it would have been unlike me to step in and not bring that same energy and passion.”
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Gaulden had two tackles, but more importantly in head coach Ron Rivera’s mind, he didn’t seem to make any mistakes.
“I think Rashaan played well, for a rookie coming in and playing as much as he did,” said Rivera. “He flashed well. I can’t wait to see the tape and really get a chance to break it down and see how he did, once I can marry his actions with what the calls were.”
Carolina wants its safeties to be as physical as they are smart. Gaulden says both of those qualities are up to him.
“I can control how much I’m in the playbook. I can control all of that,” he said. “So really I’ve been able to go out there on the field, make my mistakes and correct my mistakes. As the weeks go by, I’ve been feeling more confidence in my progression and more confident in the things that I see.”
His fellow rookie, cornerback Donte Jackson, started Friday night. As to be expected, it had its ups and downs.
He missed a tackle on the second snap of the game, but later slipped a block on a third down and stuffed a screen pass, forcing the Dolphins to punt.
Jackson was also playing pretty far off the line of scrimmage. It’s possible that in the future, the Panthers want to see him bump-and-run a little more, to capitalize on his specific skill set: Speed and tenacity.
“I think a lot of it is as we go through and really start to game-plan, we can give him tools,” said Rivera. “All of them, we can give them tools to use. These first two games, there really wasn’t a lot in terms of game planning. This third one, our next one, there will be a lot in terms of game planning for New England.”
Aside from Gaulden and Jackson, Carolina is very much trying to solidify its depth in the defensive backfield, especially after injuries to safety Damian Parms and cornerback Ross Cockrell.
Friday night, second-year corner Corn Elder stepped up — literally — with a high-flying interception in the fourth quarter. Elder also forced a fumble in the second quarter.
And at safety, starting cornerback James Bradberry said that Demetrious Cox is a player to watch in the hunt for depth.
Cox has a year of experience in Carolina’s system, so he feels like he can lend some stability if Searcy can’t play.
“Our coach says ‘If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready,’” he said. “If the opportunity comes, I’m taking it.”
Searcy’s immediate situation is still unknown. But if they have to go without him next week against New England, Rivera said he’s confident in the Panthers’ depth.
Jourdan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071; @jourdanrodrigue