Step right up, James Dockery.
Three weeks ago, the fourth-year cornerback wasn’t even on an NFL roster. Now he will be the Carolina Panthers’ starting nickel corner against Seattle this week.
“Right now we’re pretty comfortable with it,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “James Dockery played the nickel position for us some in the Green Bay game, obviously. We’re going to give him the start.”
Dockery is the third nickel corner for Carolina this season. Rookie Bené Benwikere has missed the past two games with an ankle sprain that will sideline him again Sunday, and backup Charles Godfrey was released Tuesday.
Dockery has taken first-team practice repetitions at nickel this week after playing seven snaps in junk time in Sunday’s 38-17 loss to the Packers. Safety Colin Jones and cornerback Antoine Cason have also worked at nickel, and utility player De’Andre Presley switched from receiver to nickel corner for the scout team on Wednesday.
While nickel comes naturally more to Dockery than the others, Jones’ speed offers something the Panthers’ secondary desperately lacks. He ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash at his Texas Christian pro day in 2011, and he’s one of the fastest players on the team.
“I think (the nickel) is just different,” Jones said. “I wouldn’t say harder; I’d say different. I’ve been doing it since the spring, a little here and there. It’s not like it’s been thrown at me on a Monday.”
Answering the Bell? Left tackle Byron Bell practiced in a limited capacity Wednesday, with a bulky brace on his injured left elbow. Rivera was somewhat vague about the extent of Bell’s injury but is considering how it affects Bell’s ability to lock out on pass-rushers.
“It’s really not the swelling as much as it is what he’s limited to, and his punch is important,” Rivera said. “That’s something we’ve got to find out about (Thursday) and see how it reacted and responded to the treatment.”
The Panthers also were without both starting guards. Rivera already has ruled out rookie Trai Turner (ankle, knee), and Amini Silatolu (calf) has been sidelined since last week.
That left Fernando Velasco and undrafted rookie Andrew Norwell as the first-team guards, with recently reacquired Chris Scott also working in.
Running back DeAngelo Williams, who has missed three games with a high ankle sprain, ran and pushed blocking sleds among his side work. His status for Sunday’s game remains uncertain.
Four other players sat out because of injury: linebacker Chase Blackburn (knee), receiver/returner Philly Brown (concussion), running back Fozzy Whittaker (quadriceps) and linebacker Jason Williams (groin).
To defer or not: With as poorly as Carolina’s defense has played this season, could the Panthers consider taking the ball to start the game and setting the tone?
Rivera said it’s a discussion he had with his staff on Wednesday, but Carolina plans to defer to the second half if they win the toss against Seattle.
Carolina has won the toss three times in seven games this season and has deferred on all three. Last week the Panthers won the toss and deferred, and the Packers became the first team to score on their opening drive after Carolina deferred this season.
The Lions missed a field goal on their opening drive, and the Steelers were forced to punt near midfield on their first possession.
Extra points: Rivera said the league told him Luke Kuechly will not be fined and should not have been ejected from the Green Bay game for swinging his elbow and nearly making contact with an official. An NFL.com report contradicted Rivera and said Kuechly should have been ejected, though there will be no fine. … Brenton Bersin will be the punt and kick returner for the Seattle game. He said he’s more of one-cut-and-go type of returner rather than running from sideline to sideline. … Panthers safety and UNC graduate Tre Boston said on the day of the Wainstein report that the academic fraud scandal “devalued the education that we got there.” Boston said he took no paper classes and graduated early with a degree in communications.
Staff writer Scott Fowler contributed.