Pan­thers’ depth in sec­ondary key as in­jury hits safety spot

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Football - BY JOUR­DAN RODRIGUE jro­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com Jour­dan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071; @ jour­dan­ro­drigue

A player never wants to get more play­ing time be­cause of an in­jury, but that’s what hap­pened to Pan­thers rookie safety Rashaan Gaulden on Fri­day night against Mi­ami.

Start­ing safety Da’Nor­ris Searcy, a con­sis­tent and sta­ble pres­ence in the de­fen­sive back­field, left the game in the first quar­ter after a badly an­gled hit and en­tered the con­cus­sion pro­to­col.

So Gaulden, who has been re­learn­ing the safety po­si­tion and the team’s big nickel sub-pack­age, en­tered the game a lit­tle ear­lier than he oth­er­wise would have.

“Just as a sec­ondary we have the ‘next man up’ mind­set,” Gaulden said. “Ob­vi­ously I wanted to bring that same en­ergy he brings to the field ev­ery time he steps out there. He’s been con­sis­tent for us all camp, so it would have been un­like me to step in and not bring that same en­ergy and pas­sion.”

Gaulden had two tack­les, but more im­por­tantly in head coach Ron Rivera’s mind, he didn’t seem to make any mis­takes.

“I think Rashaan played well, for a rookie com­ing in and play­ing as much as he did,” said Rivera. “He flashed well. I can’t wait to see the tape and re­ally get a chance to break it down and see how he did, once I can marry his ac­tions with what the calls were.”

Carolina wants its safeties to be as phys­i­cal as they are smart. Gaulden says both of those qual­i­ties are up to him.

“I can con­trol how much I’m in the play­book. I can con­trol all of that,” he said. “So re­ally I’ve been able to go out there on the field, make my mis­takes and cor­rect my mis­takes. As the weeks go by, I’ve been feel­ing more con­fi­dence in my pro­gres­sion and more con­fi­dent in the things that I see.”

His fel­low rookie, cor­ner­back Donte Jack­son, started Fri­day night. As to be ex­pected, it had its ups and downs.

He missed a tackle on the sec- ond snap of the game, but later slipped a block on a third down and stuffed a screen pass, forc­ing the Dol­phins to punt.

Jack­son was also play­ing pretty far off the line of scrimmage. It’s pos­si­ble that in the fu­ture, the Pan­thers want to see him bumpand-run a lit­tle more, to cap­i­tal­ize on his spe­cific skill set: Speed and tenac­ity.

“I think a lot of it is as we go through and re­ally start to game­plan, we can give him tools,” said Rivera. “All of them, we can give them tools to use. These first two games, there re­ally wasn’t a lot in terms of game plan­ning. This third one, our next one, there will be a lot in terms of game plan­ning for New Eng­land.”

Aside from Gaulden and Jack­son, Carolina is very much try­ing to so­lid­ify its depth in the de­fen­sive back­field, es­pe­cially after in­juries to safety Damian Parms and cor­ner­back Ross Cock­rell.

Fri­day night, sec­ond-year cor­ner Corn El­der stepped up — lit­er­ally — with a high-fly­ing in­ter­cep­tion in the fourth quar­ter. El­der also forced a fum­ble in the sec­ond quar­ter.

And at safety, start­ing cor­ner­back James Brad­berry said that Demetri­ous Cox is a player to watch in the hunt for depth.

Cox has a year of ex­pe­ri­ence in Carolina’s sys­tem, so he feels like he can lend some sta­bil­ity if Searcy can’t play.

“Our coach says ‘If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready,’” he said. “If the op­por­tu­nity comes, I’m tak­ing it.”

Searcy’s im­me­di­ate sit­u­a­tion is still un­known. But if they have to go with­out him next week against New Eng­land, Rivera said he’s con­fi­dent in the Pan­thers’ depth.

NELL RED­MOND AP

Start­ing cor­ner­back James Brad­berry says that Demetri­ous Cox (right) is a player to watch in the team’s hunt for depth. Above, Cox tack­les the Mi­ami Dol­phins’ Buddy How­ell (38) in Fri­day’s pre­sea­son game.

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