We've finally reached out #1 question for the Carolina Panthers during the 2012 training camp!
Could Morris Claiborne really stay on the board?
Was it worth reaching for Stephon Gilmore?
If Janoris Jenkins is there in the second, should the Panthers take him?
In the time leading up to the 2012 draft there was a widespread assumption that the Carolina Panthers needed to do whatever it took to bolster their secondary, and add a talented cornerback to pair with Chris Gamble. As we know, the front office went a different route, instead placing faith in the players they had on the roster, and waiting until the fifth round to nab a cornerback of value. Now that they're in Spartanburg we're seeing the battle shape up, and thus far it has been pretty promising; rookie Josh Norman looks far ahead of where he should be for making the jump from Coastal Carolina to the NFL, but he's by no means a lock.
Today we're delving into the permeations of the CB position to try and get a look at who might make an impact, and who we could be seeing in the fall.
More after the jump
Over the weekend Chris Gamble was battling heat related problems, so it gave Josh Norman plenty of chances to work against Steve Smith. It's vital to remember that just because Norman was the #1 during those two practices, that doesn't mean he's a favorite to win the #2 job. More often than not coaches will adhere to field sides on their depth chart, rather than having guys switch off. It isn't as simple as the second CB being bumped to the first, but rather Gamble's backup coming in for Gamble. We saw this last year when Darius Butler entered games for Gamble. Many assumed this foreshadowed a plan to make Butler the starter, but in reality it was a plan for consistency-- and when it was all said and done Butler remained the nickel.
Optimism abounds surrounding Josh Norman, and rightfully so. Watching him play over the weekend I can safely say that he's going to be a good NFL player. Calling him anything more than that at this stage is foolhardy. The job isn't his to lose, not yet, and Steve Smith showed that Norman might not be as ready for the big leagues as he thinks he is. Norman had success against other receivers, but he also had times where over-aggressiveness was his downfall. In many ways he plays like a corner who is accustomed to out-muscling players at the collegiate level, but who isn't prepared for them to muscle back. This will come with time, but as it stands he looks like a fantastic draft pick in the 5th round.
Josh Norman is now what Brandon Hogan was last year-- over hyped by fans. The stories of Brandon Hogan were passed around as tall tales, and soon enough the truth of a 2nd to 3rd round pick who was available in the 4th due to injury, and off-field concerns had morphed and was promulgated as "Brandon Hogan: The top-ten pick the Panthers stole!". Injury held Hogan back his rookie year, and how we're getting to finally see him in practice. Unfortunately I wasn't at practice last night, where it seemed Hogan was featured more prominently, but from what I can ascertain what he did last night was an extension of what we saw over the weekend. Hogan has a lightning fast backpedal, and breaks on the ball extremely well. I tried not to derive too much information from the weekend sessions, as there's only so much you can learn about a cornerback when he's only covering UDFA's and Jimmy Clausen is throwing the ball.
In watching Hogan, one thing that stands out is his ability to follow a QB's eyes. This is a skill that takes young CBs time to master, as they tend to play the receiver far too much. Where Hogan goes wrong is that sometimes he'll lose track of his receiver while concentrating too much on where the QB is going with the ball. This didn't result in any ugly completions, but it will be something to watch in preseason, as the potential is there for receivers to get behind him.
What can we say about Captain Munnerlyn? He's a blue-collar, hard nosed football player who gives 100% on every down; the problem is, that isn't really enough. Forget about how he gets outmatched physically, and you still see a player who sometimes get lost on the field. Like Jordan Senn to the linebacker position, the Panthers desperately need Munnerlyn on their team, because he brings special team support, and a much needed hard hitter in the secondary, however, also like Senn I wouldn't want to rely on him as a long-term starter.
Finally we have Darius Butler, the elder statesman of the Panthers' secondary (outside of Gamble). Butler had opportunities at the #1 CB spot too, and while he didn't make any bad plays, he didn't make any good ones either. He's a player the Panthers need for depth, but doesn't really fit the long-term goals of the defense. Unless he's willing to re-up for a decent cap figure next year it's doubtful he'll remain on the roster.
It will be a few more weeks before we see the depth chart solidified, but based on what I saw it's hard to imagine anything other than Josh Norman starting across from Gamble week one.Norman has plenty to learn, and work on, but his aggressive ball-hawking attitude should pair nicely with Gamble's more passive, smothering approach. It's early, but Norman has so business covering NFL #1 receivers, but he should be serviceable against most second receivers. It's not perfect, but it's a start-- and slowly the Carolina Panthers are building their secondary, even if we need to wait a little longer for it to all come to fruition.