Ball Skills: A Key Point of Emphasis for the Panthers' Secondary

Recently, our GM Dave Gettleman recently let out another snippet of his philosophy behind his evaluation of defensive backs when he made this comment about 5th-round pick Bene Benwikere:

"He had 14 career picks, and something I’ve learned over the years is that if you’re an interceptor in college, you’ll be an interceptor up here."

So I started looking at some of the DBs that we've retained over the last two offseasons to see if there was a trend.

Bene Benwikere: College - 14 INTs in 4 seasons at San Jose St., 12 in the last 2 seasons as a starter

Tre Boston: College - 13 INTs in 4 seasons at UNC; 12 in the last 3 seasons as a starter

Robert Lester: College - 14 INTs in 3 seasons as a starter at Alabama; Pro - 3 INTs in his rookie season in 2013

Antoine Cason: College - 15 INTs in 4 years at the University of Arizona; Pro - 14 INTs in 6 NFL seasons.

Thomas Decoud: College - 1 INT in 1 starting season at Cal; Pro - 14 INTs from 2009-2012 before the disasterous 2013 season behind ATL’s terrible front 7

Charles Godfrey: College - 7 INTs in 2 starting seasons at Iowa; Pro - 11 INTs in his first 5 seasons before his injury

I'll also look at the 2 DBs we let go in FA, Captain Munnerlyn and Mike Mitchell

Cap: College - 5 INT in 3 seasons at S. Carolina; 7 INTs in 5 NFL seasons (5 returned for TDs, though)

Mitchell: College - 7 INTs in 4 seasons at Ohio; 6 INTs in 5 NFL seasons (4 with us last year)

Quintin Mikell had 12 INTs in 11 seasons. Drayton Florence had 20 INTs in 11 seasons. Both will be 34 years old and have probably played their last NFL games. Roman Harper takes the place of Mikell this year, but I believe Lester will be the guy at SS moving forward.

In short... the rate of INTs for our current DBs is higher than the ones we did not retain.

I'll throw these comments that Gettleman made about Boston and Benwikere as well:

"(Boston's) very smart, he can get everybody lined up. He sets a tone back there; he's a very physical player, and on top of that he has very good skills," general manager Dave Gettleman said. "He's definitely got a special teams mentality to him – that was very important for us, and we just thought he was a very good value there."

"(Benwikere's) got excellent ball skills; he's very smart like Tre," Gettleman said. "That's important back there. Bene's going to have an opportunity to compete at the nickel spot right off the bat."

Not that it totally matters, but both guys scored 21 on their Wonderlic tests.

I think I can see where we’re headed. In 2013 we had 20 INTs.... our CBs had 7 and our safeties had 7. That would be good for a lot of teams. But as good as our front 7 turned out to be, we can do better.

To put it in perspective, Seattle had 28 INTs in 2013. Richard Sherman had 8 on his own.

I believe our goal is to certainly get better as a zone coverage unit, but also to get closer to 30 INTs for 2014 and especially the 2015 Super Bowl run. I believe that the moves that we've made are pushing us to that point.

We could very easily see a DB lineup of the following in 2015:

CB1 – Cason
CB2 – Godfrey
CB3 – Benwikere
FS – Decoud/Boston
SS – Lester

This could be a much more dangerous DB corps to throw into in 2014-2015 based on the numbers than the group we fielded in 2013.

None of the draft picks, UDFAs and FAs are perfect, and some aspects of their games will have to be improved and worked on. But ball skills is something that usually can't be taught.... either you have them or you don't. I remember an awful lot of balls that should have been INTs from this season... including the playoff loss.

I honestly believe the construction of our secondary going forward is built to remedy that issue.... and make us a much better team in the process.

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