McDermott has growing faith in 'Three Amigos' as camp ends
SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott says he'll miss having All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman roaming the secondary this season.
But McDermott also has growing faith that the NFC champions will be just fine with three rookie cornerbacks that teammates have dubbed the ''Three Amigos.''
The Panthers wrapped up training camp on Tuesday at Wofford College with James Bradberry and Daryl Worley still working with the first-team defense and Zack Sanchez seeing plenty of action at nickel back.
''They have done a nice job out there so far,'' McDermott said. ''I like their poise. They played with the (starters) the other night against Baltimore and they looked they played with a clear mind, which is hard to do in your first NFL preseason game. To this point, the arrow is pointing up.''
McDermott says there's still work to be done.
He knows it won't be easy to replace Norman, among the league's top cornerbacks in 2015. Norman held opposing quarterbacks to the lowest passer rating in the league and had a breakout season that included four interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns.
The Panthers initially put the franchise tag on Norman while contemplating a long-term contract extension, but later pulled the offer and allowed him to become a free agent. Norman signed with the Washington Redskins less than 48 hours later, leaving another hole in Carolina's secondary.
A knee injury last season forced the team's other starting cornerback, 35-year-old Charles Tillman, into retirement and the team opted not to re-sign veteran safety Roman Harper.
Carolina responded by drafting Bradberry, Worley and Sanchez with three consecutive picks last April.
Bradberry and Worley have performed so well as starters the Panthers have kept them there even though it was expected one of those spots would go to Bene Benwikere once he fully recovered from a broken leg he suffered last season.
But at least for now, Benwikere is behind the rookies on the depth chart.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he has no fear of putting all three rookie cornerbacks on the field at the same time if needed, pointing out that the that 1981 San Francisco 49ers won a Super Bowl behind three starting rookie defensive backs in cornerbacks Ronnie Lott and Eric Wright and safety Carlton Williamson.
In the meantime the ''Three Amigos'' have leaned heavily on each other.
''Being able to know that there are guys in the same position as you, it definitely gives you a level of comfortability, knowing, `Oh, he made the same mistake as me,' " Worley said. ''You can learn just watching someone else make the mistake.''
In the team's defensive backs room, no question is a dumb question since everyone is learning the system.
But it's clear the room is much quieter now without the brash and outspoken Norman, who feared no one and wasn't afraid to let you know it. It was Norman who got under the skin of opposing wide receivers Odell Beckham and Dez Bryant last year, disrupting their play with bold trash talk.
But teammates say these three rookies don't do much talking.
''That's one good thing is they're not too loud,'' said Benwikere, who still hopes to rise up and win a starting job. ''That's good, they're all humble and they take coaching very well. I know our coaches and the staff love that.''
Said defensive tackle Star Lotulelei: ''They don't talk much. They just go out there and compete.''
NOTES: The Panthers will return to Charlotte, North Carolina on Wednesday to resume preparation for the season following their 22nd summer at Wofford College... Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen missed his second straight day of practice with back spasms.
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