The senior member of the Panthers’ secondary is the guy who’s been around Charlotte the shortest time.
But cornerback Drayton Florence has been in the NFL for 11 seasons, and the Panthers are betting that experience will benefit the team’s young corners.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who was in San Diego for a season with Florence, thinks Florence can still play, too.
Florence has not played at the level of Chris Gamble, the man he essentially replaced. But he’s not been a slouch, either. You don’t start 99 games at corner in the NFL unless you have talent.
Florence, 32, was starting for Detroit last season when he was injured in a Week 2 loss at San Francisco.
He was on injured reserve for eight weeks and ended up starting just three games, his fewest since his rookie season in San Diego.
“My first major injury after 11 years in the league, so I wasn’t too upset about it,” Florence said last week in a phone interview from his offseason home in Jacksonville, Fla. “Those types of things happen. Unfortunately, it just happened so early in the season.”
Florence, a second-round pick out of Tuskegee in 2003, does not have a history of missing games with nagging, soft-tissue injuries. He started 45 of the 46 games he played in three seasons in Buffalo.
Florence had three interceptions in both 2010 and 2011, leading the Bills in pass breakups both years. But Buffalo released Florence last May after drafting South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore 10th overall.
Florence was with Denver through training camp before landing in Detroit after the Broncos cut him.
He went to the playoffs three times with the Chargers early in his career. But the three teams he’s played on since – he had a 1-year stint in Jacksonville after leaving San Diego – have averaged five wins per season.
Like Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, Florence is getting antsy to get back to the postseason.
Asked if he expected to start, Florence said: “My expectation is to win games and get in the playoffs.”
That sounds like a veteran willing to accept whatever role he is asked to fill here. That could mean taking Gamble’s starting spot or tutoring the three corners who saw the bulk of playing time at the end of last season – Josh Thomas, Josh Norman and James Dockery, all 25 or younger.
The Panthers are more experienced at the nickel position after re-signing Captain Munnerlyn and bringing in former Chicago defensive back D.J. Moore.
“There’s a lot of great talent already here,” Florence said. “Me and D.J. Moore came in just to provide a little more depth and a little more competition.”
Florence called Thomas and Norman “great athletes” and was complimentary of free safety Charles Godfrey.
“He’s been a very productive player for awhile,” Florence said. “He’s a guy that stuck out to me on film.”
Florence also likes what the Panthers did in the draft, taking defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short with their first two picks.
“On paper, those guys are beasts,” he said. “I was looking at some film on the guy from Utah (Lotulelei), and he was just manhandling guys, putting the O-lineman 5 feet in the backfield and making the play. Having a guy with an inside presence like that and the guys we have coming off the edge, that makes our job a lot easier in the secondary.”