Though the 38-0 beat down the Panthers put on the Falcons was highly satisfying, the Panthers came out a little more than unscathed. Most of the injuries that occurred this Sunday were nothing more than bumps and bruises, but the same can not be said for starting corner Bené Benwikere. The second year player from San Jose State came off early in the fourth quarter with a season ending fractured leg, putting an already thin cornerback rotation in an even more precarious situation. The loss of Benwikere is huge, but there are several options out there that may ease the pain. Rivera and company are likely to make a move, here are several possible places they may look to.
It wasn't that long ago when Tim Jennings was an All Pro player (2012), and it has been an even shorter amount of time that he was a starter (Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2015). Jennings would be an interesting addition in that he was a teammate of current Panther Charles Tillman; in fact, they were one of the better cornerback duos in recent history when both were playing well. As a former Super Bowl champion, he would bring even more depth and experience to a young defense. The problem is that he is 31, and has clearly lost a step. Standing 5’8’’, he had often relied on athleticism and ball skills to win versus his opponents; now that his athleticism is fading, he may not have what it takes to consistently matchup.
Bottom Line: A band-aid signing that may or may not make a difference for this Panthers squad. The reuniting of he and Tillman would certainly be special, and in the right situation he could probably still make a play or two. In the end, he is very much like Cortland Finnegan, and I wouldn't want either playing on the outside if Tillman misses more time.
This name may sound familiar to some of you readers, and it should. Heath was brought into the Panthers’ training camp this offseason after the retirement of Chris Houston. Heath was noted for making several plays throughout his time in Spartanburg, but was up and down overall. Standing at 6’0’’, he has the height to play on the outside, and his 40 yard dash time of 4.44 ensures he can keep up with most receivers in the league.
Bottom Line: There is a reason Heath is a free agent, he just isn't that good of a player. As a 28 year old, he is one of the younger cornerbacks still on the market, and is slightly familiar with how the defense operates in Carolina. Heath would be nothing more than depth in the cornerback rotation, and may be able to come in every once and awhile to keep Charles Tillman fresh.
Among those the Panthers worked out before the Finnegan signing, Fletcher is just trying to find a roster spot. Once regarded as a decent corner, Fletcher’s play over the past few seasons has made him a source of ridicule. Fletcher has gained the reputation of being one of the more “burn-able” defensive backs in the league, not a title someone would want regarding their life’s work.
Bottom Line: A veteran corner with decent ball skills, Fletcher would be an all name no game signing. It is possible he could return to an average corner in McDermott’s system, but has his recent play and the media ridicule entered his head?
The former Panther draft pick made his way back to Carolina for a recent workout. After being cut the offseason he was drafted, McClain was able to find a brief niche two years later as the Falcons’ nickel corner. After three years with Atlanta he went to New England this offseason and was eventually released. I see no way he’s anything more than a depth nickel corner at this point. If Tillman continues to miss games, and the Panthers were to sign McClain, he’d play in the slot and push Finnegan opposite of Norman, not exactly a recipe for success.
Bottom Line: The McClain signing wouldn't be a bad thing, but I am not sure he is the type of player the Panthers are looking for right now. Carolina is in a tricky situation, and Charles Tillman can not return soon enough.
Other free agent options: Asa Jackson, Javier Arenas, Jarrett Bush, Antoine Cason (kidding)
The Answers on Our Roster?
Though Rivera implied the team will make a move, it’s possible one doesn't even need to be made. It is looking more and more likely that Charles Tillman returns to action this week or the next; giving the Panthers a trio of Norman, Tillman, and Finnegan (not too bad). Even if Tillman sits out this Sunday, we have already seen linebackers Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson take snaps in the slot. Though playing Finnegan on the outside and a linebacker at the nickel isn't ideal, it wouldn't be a situation that would single-handedly cost us a game. Davis was a safety at the University of Georgia, and Thompson was arguably the best pass coverage linebacker in this year’s draft class. Outside of the previous situation, the Panthers could stick with what they have and give special teamer Teddy Williams some snaps on defense. Williams has world class speed and very good height at 6’1’’, but is one of the more penalized and mental players on the roster. Another option would be practice squad player Lou Young. The 6’1’’ second year player out of Georgia Tech has the size to play on the outside, and has some experience in the Panthers’ system under his belt. After a decent showing this preseason, Rivera could look to grow a young player like Young during the final games of the regular season. It worked for the Patriots and Malcom Butler.
By Grant Hughes
Follow Grant on Twitter @KenjonVander