Seeing If the Kids Can Play

As the Panthers head into the final stretch of what has become a lost season, they have at least one eye on the future.

Even though their playoff chances are still technically alive, the Panthers have wisely ditched much of that hopeful talk this week. Right now, they are mostly just trying to keep their heads above water in a season that went wrong long ago.

When they kick off Sunday against the Saints in New Orleans, it will be 63 days since the Panthers last won a game. Two months, six losses, one tie, no wins. 

After his team had lost its sixth-straight game last Sunday in Minneapolis, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he would not have any knee-jerk reactions. After defending himself and his coaches, Rivera held true to that promise, keeping his staff intact. But players were not as safe.

Veterans Antoine Cason and Jason Williams were released on Tuesday, clearing the way for younger guys to get an opportunity.

Fifth-round draft pick Bené Benwikere, who has been the No. 1 nickel cornerback this season, will start at outside corner against the Saints. And a couple other rookies, cornerback Carrington Byndom and linebacker Horace Miller, were promoted from the practice squad. 

"This was not a knee-jerk reaction. We've evaluated over a period of time,” Rivera said Wednesday.

"We've talked about these things over a few weeks, about looking for situations and opportunities for guys. We feel good about some of the young guys we have on the practice squad, and these are some of the guys that you'd like to see."

But it would be silly to think Rivera and some of the Panthers higher-ups were not trying to send a message, as well. 

Cason was beaten on one of the Vikings’ first-half scores, and Williams was responsible for the first of two punt blocks Minnesota turned into touchdowns.

Free safety Thomas DeCoud, a seven-year veteran, is still on the roster, but like Cason, DeCoud was benched after he gave up a score. Fourth-round pick Tre Boston replaced DeCoud in Minnesota, and it would not be surprising to see the rookie start against the Saints. 

“We’re just trying to find a way to win,” Boston said. "I’m not going to say the old guys weren’t doing it for us, I think it’s a new fit in trying to see how can we get to winning ballgames."

That appears to be the company line these days. The Panthers claim the changes are an effort to find the guys who can best help them win. And while that is true, so is the fact that a youth movement is underway.

“There's a lot of young guys that have been playing, but now we’re getting more of an opportunity to get in there and earn a spot and earn a living for real,” defensive end Kony Ealy said.

Trying to win now and plan for the future is a tough balancing act, especially when you are about to head down to a place where you have won just once in your last five trips. But that is where the reeling Panthers are at in this point of their season. 

It was hard to see them beating the Saints with the roster they have been putting out there, so they may as well see if the young guys can play. 

“The youth that we have are very talented. They’re aggressive; they’re hungry, and they’re learning,” cornerback Josh Norman said. "Coaches want to see a little bit of what everybody is bringing to the table, as far as what we have in this young guys."

"Whatever the coaches ask, we’ve got to do to the best of our abilities, regardless of who’s here and who’s not. We can have a whole story of who’s not here, but we’re not going to get into that. If people are not here, they’re not here. We’ve just got to press on."

Categories: Black and Blue Review 2, Panthers