Throughout the history of the Carolina Panthers franchise, many of the team's leaders and most legendary figures have populated its defensive backfield.
One could find many examples from Cornerback Eric Davis who joined the team shortly after its inception and starred in the city for more than half a decade en route to becoming its all-time interceptions leader to current Panther Cornerback Chris Gamble who eclipsed Davis's mark this past season.
However, aside from Gamble, a blatant 2011 Pro Bowl snub after a career-type campaign which saw him lock down some of the league's number one receivers, there wasn't a lot to inspire admiration in the way the Panthers secondary performed last year.
It would be the textbook definition of "beating a dead horse" to further expound upon the shortcomings of the Panthers secondary during the 2011 season.
I haven't come to praise Caesar, merely to bury him. Therefore, I'm not going to bash you over the head with lists of long touchdowns surrendered - though there were many - or any breakdown of tackling statistics to show the "softness" of our guys in the back - though there are such documents readily available on the Internet.
I think we can all of sound mind agree the defensive backfield is an area the Panthers would love to infuse with talent upgrades at a couple of starting positions, provide depth across the board and generally change the culture of the way the guys have been playing back there.
Overall, the Panthers should be looking for a pair of defensive backs to push for a starting job in 2012, one or both of whom are most likely in this field of Defensive Back NFL Scouting Combine participants.
Change of Culture
Former San Diego Chargers Secondary Coach Steve Wilks has joined the Panthers staff to address one of the major weaknesses from the 2011 team. via www.panthers.com.
One of the team's first moves of the offseason involved changing that culture as a matter of fact, when the organization reunited Head Coach Ron Rivera with Steve Wilks - the secondary specialist who helped coach implement the number one defense in the league during his days as a coordinator in San Diego. Rivera actually requested Wilks be hired for the position the year before, but the Chargers refused to let him out of the last year of his contract with the team.
Unlike Ron Meeks, who coached the defensive backs last year, Wilks doesn't run the "Tampa 2" zone coverage scheme which asks the safety to essentially play softball (right and left) centerfield. Expect the safeties and even corners to be involved in applying pressure to opposing offense's backfields and support the run defense when the Panthers defense returns to the field in 2012, as well as more "Press Man" coverage involving contact at the line of scrimmage and man coverage down the field.
The general consensus among CSR readers this offseason has been the team should identify a number two cornerback to step up and replace Captain Munnerlyn as Chris Gamble's running buddy, as well as bring in competition for Sherrod Martin at the starting free safety position. Many wouldn't mind parting ways with Martin altogether.
This sentiment about the way Martin performed during his sophomore 2011 campaign may be shared by some at the top level of Panthers management if Owner Jerry Richardson's reaction to his name during a game of word association with the in an interview earlier this year with the Charlotte Observer's Tom Sorenson .
"I think he plays Safety," Richardson glossed over the former Troy cornerback's name in January. This after first retorting, "What about him?"
Even more telling than the curtness of the quote is the greater context of the conversation, during which EACH of the other players whose names were mentioned - without fail - earned some type of praise.
Wilks may well have further tipped the Panthers hand going into the Draft shortly after joining the coaching staff during Senior Bowl Week, when he commended the depth and quality of this year's defensive back Draft pool, remarking "it's probably one of the best classes they've had in years as far as corners and safeties."
There is a school of thought the team already has a replacement for Munnerlyn on its roster in Brandon Hogan. The team drafted the corner in the fourth round last year as a senior coming from West Virginia University. He was considered by many to have a first-round grade in the 2011 NFL Draft, but was befallen by a knee injury in his college's bowl game that sidelined him for the majority of the season last year. When he did get on the field against the Houston Texans late in the season, Hogan put some flashes on tape and should be healthy coming into Camp.
The situation at safety is more dire, as there is no perceived savior waiting in the wings aside from Sherrod Martin, who may well be the problem.
Combine Defensive Backs
A list of Combine participants can be found on the NFL's Website at: http://www.nfl.com/combine/participants. This is a long list of athletes, including more than 35 corners and 21 safeties, which is broken into two groups at the Scouting Combine. Both groups step onto the field for workouts in Indy Tuesday.
Alabama Strong Safety Mark Barron is widely considered the best safety in this year's draft class headed into the Scouting Combine. - via www.nepatriotsdraft.com
LSU Cornerback Morris Claiborne is considered the top cornerback prospect in the NFL headed into Combine workouts, and is a player whose progress the Panthers will monitor until April. - via media.nola.com