CHARLOTTE — With the Carolina Panthers heading for their third straight losing season and top-10 draft position, coach Ron Rivera said Monday that younger players will play more in the final four games.
The Panthers already know what they have in a few of the young players. Linebacker Luke Kuechly, cornerback Josh Norman, guard Amini Silatolu and punter Brad Nortman have had 12 games to audition their talents. And defensive end Frank Alexander, guard Jeff Byers and cornerback Josh Thomas have gotten a good chunk of reps – and starts – this season. But for others, December will be their chance to impress.
“It’s important to evaluate what we have and what’s on this roster, and it’s important for the future of this organization,” defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. “A lot of those guys have gotten a lot of experience, and sometimes the performance hasn’t been where we want it to be, but that’s all part of the learning curve.
“We coach it, we teach it, we get better and we fix things. A lot of these young guys are getting playing time, and that’s a positive for this organization moving forward.”
Who are the guys who will take more snaps as the season winds down? Five candidates:
WR/PR Joe Adams
Previous use: Drafted as a dynamic punt returner, Adams sat out six games after two costly mistakes in Week 3 against the Giants. He has recently reclaimed his position as the team’s punt returner.
2012 stats: 10.1 yards per punt return, 23.1 yards per kick return, one catch for 7 yards, one rush for 5 yards.
Outlook: Adams recorded his first career catch and rush against the Chiefs. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said Adams is still learning the offense, and he could see more snaps as veteran receiver Steve Smith sits out reps in the final games.
DT Nate Chandler
Previous use: A rookie out of UCLA, he was on the practice squad until Week 8 when the team needed a versatile lineman following a season-ending injury to Thomas Keiser.
2012 stats: Three tackles.
Outlook: Chandler’s inexperience showed against the Eagles when he was out of position on a 65-yard Bryce Brown touchdown run. But with Ron Edwards out for the season, the Panthers will need Chandler to perform.
DT Sione Fua
Previous use: An 11-game starter last season, Fua was seldom used before Edwards’ injury against the Eagles.
2012 stats: 11 tackles in 10 games (active).
Outlook: Fua struggled early against the rush at Kansas City as Jamaal Charles ran through the Carolina defense. Fua has stayed close to veteran tackle Dwan Edwards to learn from him throughout the year and will have to apply that in the next four games.
S D.J. Campbell
Previous use: The rookie got his first seven snaps of the 2012 season on Sunday. Before that, he had been inactive in 10 of the previous 11 games.
2012 stats: One tackle.
Outlook: Campbell, a seventh-round pick in the 2012 draft, is the last Panther to be drafted by Marty Hurney. He will likely have an increased role now that Sherrod Martin is out for the season with a knee injury.
LB Doug Hogue
Previous use: Picked up by Carolina in late October, Hogue played in five games for the Panthers before being inactive vs. the Chiefs.
2012 stats: Four tackles (on special teams).
Outlook: Hogue, a second-year player, has filled the hole in special teams left by injured LB Kenny Onatolu. The Panthers might want to give Thomas Davis, who’s on his third ACL reconstruction, some rest as the season closes.