The last time the Carolina Panthers wanted to inject youth in the secondary, a pair of rookies — safety Tre Boston and cornerback Bené Benwikere — moved into the starting lineup.
Less than two years later, Boston’s lost his starting job twice and Benwikere’s gone.
And the Panthers’ reasoning for his surprising release?
“We have a group of young guys we're looking to play and get on the football field,” coach Ron Rivera said Friday.
“This is a part of retooling this football team. It's tough, but it's one of those things. Until we get it right in terms of players on the field and calling things to put them in position to have success, we've just got to keep working through it.”
A couple of things probably jump out at you there.
1.) Isn’t Benwikere still a ‘young guy’?
2.) Of last year’s two Super Bowl teams, weren’t the Broncos supposed to be the ones who were “retooling”?
About No. 1: Benwikere turned just 25 last month and is in only his third season, so yeah, he’s still pretty young. But while the release was a shocker, the Panthers hadn’t been all that impressed with his play early in the year, and Julio Jones’s record day didn’t help. Benwikere was out of position on multiple plays in Atlanta, and that’s a killer for a zone defense.
Benwikere is just 10 months removed from breaking his leg just above the ankle, and he has appeared slower than he was before the injury. But when asked if Benwikere struggled to get back to full health, Rivera responded:
“I’m not going to get into that.”
The timing of the move is certainly strange. Teams don’t often cut guys on Fridays, but the sense is the Panthers struggled with the decision during the week until they finally decided to pull the trigger.
Still, you’d assume Benwikere’s better than the Panthers’ other options, especially with James Bradberry set to miss at least this week’s game against the Bucs with turf toe. The front office and coaching staff obviously think otherwise.
So the Panthers head into Monday Night Football with four healthy corners: Daryl Worley, Zack Sanchez, Teddy Williams and Robert McClain. That’s two rookies — including one who was cut and then promoted from the practice squad, a special teams ace who’s only been active once this year, and a guy who’s suddenly the most tenured Carolina corner even though he was unemployed in December.
“As much as you'd like to have a Charles Tillman-type guy, we don't. Because of that, we've decided we really want to go with younger guys,” Rivera said.
“Everything we do is not just about today. You have to plan for the future. We feel we've got a young corps of young guys who are anxious to get an opportunity. They've done some good things and we want to continue in that direction.”
The Panthers seem like a boat adrift at the moment, but crazy things can happen in the NFL. Perhaps this latest injection of youth will steer the ship in the right direction like it did not so long ago when Benwikere was part of the solution.