The Panthers’ three rookie cornerbacks have had each other’s backs throughout their first NFL training camp and preseason.
On Wednesday that sense of brotherly protection extended to their media dealings.
When Daryl Worley was asked about the scrutiny he endured for his performance in last week’s exhibition at Tennessee, nickel back Zack Sanchez -- standing next to Worley -- shook his head and pointed out Worley had given up “two slants” against the Titans.
“It is what it is. You’re going to get talked about regardless,” Worley said with a small laugh. “I don’t really let those things get to me emotionally. At the end of the day it’s a game, you’re going to win some, you’re going to lose some. I didn’t get beat over the top. If you’re not giving up touchdowns, you’re doing something right.”
Worley, Sanchez and James Bradberry realize all eyes are on them this season. They were drafted a week after the Panthers pulled their franchise tag from Pro Bowl corner Josh Norman, the most significant loss for a team expected to contend for the NFC title again.
So Worley understands why seemingly every move he made in Nashville was analyzed by armchair coordinators -- and will be again when New England visits Bank of America Stadium on Friday night.
Even with quarterback Tom Brady watching from the sideline and coach Bill Belichick calling a vanilla offense, the Patriots’ game figures to be the biggest test for the Panthers’ three rookies -- if for no other reason, because they’ll be on the field longer.
“I think it’s a different atmosphere this week (for) everyone -- the players, the coaches. Everyone’s kind of just taking it a little bit more serious,” Worley said. “We also have to realize that we are getting closer to the regular season. Maybe the schedule just panned out this way, but we feel like these are games we want to take serious and be able to up the intensity.”
The Patriots are expected to start quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo as they prepare for the four regular-season games Brady will miss while serving his Deflategate suspension.
“Jimmy’s preparation for the Arizona opener is the most important,” Belichick told Boston reporters when asked about getting Brady reps Friday. “Nothing’s changed. Nothing’s going to change. That’s the way it’s going to be.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said his team is preparing for the Patriots’ offensive system more so than a particular quarterback, although few NFL teams do much game-planning in the preseason.
“If this were a regular-season game, yes, you’d be preparing for Brady -- specifically what they do with Tom,” Rivera said. “Whether he plays or not I think is inconsequential in terms of this game.”
As for his rookie corners, Rivera is more concerned with making sure they stay within the scheme and use sound techniques. Rivera thought Worley could have been better in the latter last week when he allowed the Titans’ Tajae Sharpe to catch several passes in front of him.
While pointing out he didn’t miss any tackles, Worley said he can play better.
“I wasn’t very impressed with my performance. I wanted to play more aggressive,” he said. “But that’s something I take note (of) and that comes with the learning curve.”
Sanchez, the fifth-round pick from Oklahoma, had a good day in the Panthers’ 26-16 win at Tennessee. He had his first interception as a pro (after he collected 15 for the Sooners) and was around the ball several other times late in the game.
Sanchez played outside corner in college but has transitioned to nickel, where he’s facing quicker, shiftier slot receivers. The Patriots have two of the top slot guys in Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman, who probably will not play as New England exercises caution with his surgically repaired foot.
“For me this week in the slot, if Edelman is out there and to see Danny Amendola would be good. Those are two of the best slot guys in the league,” Sanchez said. “It’ll be good for me to see those types of guys and get ready for that big Thursday night in Denver.”
Sanchez was 6 when Brady was drafted in the sixth round in 2000. While Sanchez was learning to play football in Texas, he watched Brady win multiple MVPs and Super Bowl rings and referred to him as a “legend.”
And while Sanchez says it would be fun to face Brady, he and the rest of the Three Amigos will face a challenge in Garoppolo, too.
“I think he’s been their main guy most of the preseason -- another good quarterback,” Sanchez said. “Obviously, he learns from one of the best quarterbacks to play this game. So he’ll be on his stuff and we’ve just got to do our job and limit him.”