Panthers Thomas Davis has positive words for rookie DJ Moore
Some fans on social media clamored for the Panthers to bench wide receiver D.J. Moore after a nightmare first half — but that’s not how head coach Ron Rivera operates.
The rookie fumbled his first touch of the game, a punt return early in the first quarter, and fumbled again in the second quarter, losing the ball on his first catch.
Still, Rivera wasn’t interested in taking the Maryland product out of the game.
From Rivera’s perspective, Moore would have to learn to move on from mistakes like those sooner or later. It might as well happen now.
“We’re trying to develop a football team,” Rivera said. “I’m not too concerned about punishing players for making mistakes as much as we are about developing them and making sure they’re learning and growing and being able to go forward with them. That’s the idea behind that.”
The Panthers drafted Moore in the first round of April’s NFL Draft in part for his ability to create after the catch and his willingness to fight through tackles. Those same strengths plagued Moore during the first two quarters Sunday.
As he tried to make something out of nothing during his first punt return, he stopped focusing on protecting the ball. Same deal on his 17-yard catch-and-run, when former Panthers cornerback Josh Norman borrowed an old teammate’s signature move to punch the ball free.
“Just too much effort on the punt. Truth of the matter is once he got locked up, he should’ve protected the ball and went down,” Rivera said. “The other one, you’ve got to give them credit, they punched the ball out. Something that Josh Norman learned from Charles “Peanut” Tillman and that was the punch. You’ve got to give them credit for a play well made.”
Hanging on to the ball wasn’t a problem for Moore at Maryland, where he fumbled three times in as many years. Even against Big Ten opponents, Moore could get away with periodically lackadaisical ball security.
But this ain’t the Big Ten. Welcome to the league, rook.
“I found that out today, so I do know now that you’ve got to get down in a crowd,” Moore said. “It’s not like college ... you’ve just got people breaking at the ball more.”
To his credit, Moore bounced back with a career-high 59 receiving yards — in large part because of the encouragement he received from teammates on the sideline.
Moore said his fellow Panthers shared stories of their worst games and insisted he could recover.
Wide receiver Torrey Smith said he could offer Moore “a whole playbook” of mistakes he’s made throughout his career, but the only thing worth sharing was what he learned from them.
“I told him don’t get down on yourself. It’s not going to be your first or last time making mistakes or not playing to the best of your ability,” Smith said. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of him how he continued to fight after that. It shows a lot about him and his character.”
Greg Olsen in particular offered a story of his own two-fumble game during his second year in the league — against the Panthers. He reminded the rookie that games like Sunday’s are a byproduct of being on the field.
And it’s better than the alternative.
“It doesn’t define who you are unless you let it. I think we saw how he bounced back and responded after that,” Olsen said. “That’s what you’re judged on. The only guys who don’t make mistakes are the ones who don’t play.”
“I think this is all about building confidence. D.J. is going to be part of what we do for a long time, as is Curtis Samuel, as is pretty much anybody on this football team,” Rivera said. “If we believe in them, we’re going to keep putting them out there. That’s the only way these guys are going to learn and develop into the players we believe they can be.
“We’ll stick with them - we’ve done it in the past, where quarterbacks will come back and throw the ball to the guy and we’ll continue to do it.”
If Moore ever forgets that, there are plenty of teammates happy to remind him.