Panthers rely on Coleman to lead young, struggling secondary
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Safety Kurt Coleman is taking on an added role this season with the Carolina Panthers - full-time mentor.
The NFC champion Panthers will be relying heavily on Coleman's NFL experience to help tutor an extremely young secondary following an offseason purge of veteran defensive backs.
The Panthers parted ways with Roman Harper and Charles Tillman this offseason and didn't retain Cortland Finnegan. Together, they had 33 years of NFL experience. Complicating matters, All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman signed with the Washington Redskins as a free agent, leaving Coleman and journeyman cornerback Robert McClain - a late-season pickup last season - as the only players in the Carolina secondary with any significant starting NFL experience.
''We are young and we aren't going to deny it,'' Rivera said of the secondary.
Coleman, entering his sixth season, will look to help groom the three cornerbacks the Panthers selected in the NFL draft in April, as well as young safeties Tre Boston and Dean Marlowe.
''There is a void back there that has to be filled in terms of leadership,'' Rivera said. ''Kurt has done that and understands how important he is to us.''
Coleman has eagerly accepted the challenge, but the youngsters are off to a rocky start in Carolina.
For the second straight day, Rivera expressed concern Wednesday over the play of the team's rookie DBs.
''The biggest disappointment is our young guys are just making too many mistakes,'' Rivera said. ''My message to them is you better get in the playbook.''
And he said he will be there to help.
''It's OK to make a mistake right now, but it's not OK to make it twice,'' Coleman said. Coach Rivera ''is talking about is repeating the same mistake.''
The Panthers drafted James Bradberry (second round), Daryl Worley (third round) and Zack Sanchez (fifth round) and are expecting one to them emerge as a starting cornerback opposite Bene Benwikere, who is working back from a broken leg. Another rookie could wind up playing nickel back.
The trio has been thrown right into the mix. At times they've been on the field at the same time with the first-team defense.
League MVP Cam Newton, who has looked extremely sharp in OTAs and minicamp, has taken little pity, targeting the young players in practice.
''Cam is doing a great job of making sure they are getting a lot of work,'' Coleman said. ''So they are going through growing pains right now and, as any player does, you have to have that ability to fight through that and come back.''
Worley displayed that this week. After giving up a long TD pass, he bounced back and made an interception.
''If you have that mental toughness you will be all right on Sunday,'' Coleman said.
That's just one piece of advice Coleman is looking to pass along.
''It's been fun. It has pushed me to really make sure I understand everything inside and out,'' Coleman said.
As for the young defensive backs, Rivera doesn't seem concerned about them catching up sooner or later.
And, he believes Carolina's vaunted pass rush and talented trio of linebackers will help mask some of the mistakes that will inevitably be made in the secondary.
''It's not like we're throwing guys out there that we don't think can play or haven't proven they can play,'' Rivera said. ''Now it's another level obviously, but it's not a one-man game either. It's an 11-man game and if we're rushing the passer and doing the things we are capable of doing on the defensive side of the ball I think we should be OK.''
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