The Carolina Panthers had all three of their rookie cornerbacks on the field for the start of team drills during Wednesday’s minicamp practice, and it didn’t take long for two of them to make their presence felt.
Nickel back Zack Sanchez jumped a short route and nearly intercepted Cam Newton on a play that would have resulted in a pick-six had Sanchez held on. A few plays later, Daryl Worley made a diving interception of a Newton pass deep down the middle of the field.
Meanwhile, second-round pick James Bradberry continued to line up with the first-team defense.
Life after Josh Norman figures to include a few bumps this season, but Wednesday was a smooth ride for the Panthers’ young corners.
“We brought them here for a reason. And that’s why they’re out there working with the 1’s and 2’s,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “It’s an opportunity for them to show us what they can do and what they’re capable of. Again there’s a lot of things that go into what’s going on on the field.”
The Panthers drafted Bradberry, Worley and Sanchez with successive picks a little more than a week after general manager Dave Gettleman rescinded Norman’s franchise tag offer.
Bradberry (6-1, 210) and Worley (6-1, 205) have the size the Panthers covet in their outside corners, with the smaller Sanchez (5-11, 185) lining up against the slot.
All three have a penchant for making plays, which is why his dropped interception was still gnawing at Sanchez after practice.
“It was just a bubble slant concept, something we’ve seen all camp and a play I should have walked into the end zone with,” Sanchez said. “It’s just getting more comfortable with the position and putting myself in position to make plays and just finishing. I know the defense. I know my responsibilities. So now it’s getting out there and using my instincts and making plays.”
In addition to cutting ties with Norman, the Panthers must replace cornerback Charles Tillman. They’re also waiting for Bené Benwikere to return from a broken leg that ended his 2015 season in December.
In the meantime, the rookies are taking their best shots at Newton.
“Obviously against the MVP it definitely boosts your confidence,” Sanchez said. “And being able to make plays on our offense, it’s one of the best in the league.”