The Panthers signed free agent safety Quintin Mikell on Monday to beef up their secondary, but also to serve as a de facto advance scout.
Mikell, an 11-year veteran, has strong ties to Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott from their time together in Philadelphia. Mikell’s background with a number of the Panthers’ 2013 opponents – beginning with Week 1 foe Seattle – was equally appealing.
Mikell, 32, spent the past two seasons with St. Louis, where he played the other three NFC West teams – which Carolina faces this season – a total of four times. The Rams also had the AFC North on their 2012 schedule; Carolina sees the AFC North this year.
“He’s a veteran guy that’s been in that division, that knows that division,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “And they played a group of teams that we play this year.”
Mikell visited the Panthers in early July but left without a contract. He agreed to a one-year deal two months later after minor injuries to two of the Panthers’ strong safeties.
Mike Mitchell, an offseason free agent acquisition, has been the starter throughout the preseason, but he strained his right calf last week and sat out Monday’s practice.
To make room for Mikell, the Panthers placed backup safety Haruki Nakamura on injured reserve with what he called a minor concussion.
Nakamura took a knee to the head during the first series against Pittsburgh last week but returned to the game. Rivera said Nakamura failed his initial concussion test, which Nakamura said took place Saturday.
Rivera said the Mikell signing had more to do with the safeties’ health than their performance.
“We liked what we were seeing,” he said. “Then all of a sudden something crazy happens. So we had to react to it.”
Mikell has been doing CrossFit and working out near his home in New Jersey during his longest football hiatus since joining the Eagles as an undrafted free agent from Boise State in 2003. He spent eight seasons in Philadelphia, playing in the Super Bowl (2004), Pro Bowl (2009) and developing a strong bond with McDermott, a longtime Eagles assistant who became their defensive coordinator.
“Sean was pretty much the reason I’m still in the league. He helped me develop as a player and gave me the time and tools over the years to continue to play and play smart,” Mikell said. “That’s one of the things I bring is play smart and bring an intellectual-type concept to the game. He’s helped me with that over the years.”
Rivera’s last year as an Eagles assistant coincided with Mikell’s rookie season. Mikell has started 90 career games, and has 12 interceptions and 16 forced fumbles. He finished with 67 tackles and 12 pass breakups during his ’09 Pro Bowl season.
Mikell, drenched in sweat after practice on a humid Monday, said he hopes to contribute immediately.
“Obviously, that’s why I came, to be able to help,” he said. “(Charles) Godfrey’s a great free safety. The way the defense is, it’s interchangeable. So he’s pretty solid at his spot. I’m just coming in to wherever they put me.”
Mitchell said he welcomed the competition but believes he’s done enough to keep the spot.
“If (Mikell) can help us win games, I think it’s a good pick for us. You’re always looking to get better,” Mitchell said. “We’re trying to win a Super Bowl. So whoever the coaches decide to bring in, I welcome it because it’s not going to do anything but make me play at a higher level.”
“I think I’ve put in the work with my teammates. I’ve been here. I thought I had a pretty good camp. I played well in the preseason games,” Mitchell added. “So until somebody tells me otherwise, yeah, I would say I am (the starter).”
Mikell, 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds, said McDermott’s scheme is different than the Eagles’ blitz-crazy philosophy during his years in Philadelphia.
“Here with this front seven, we don’t have to blitz a whole lot. The front seven, they’re incredible. Really the whole defense is incredible,” Mikell said. “I’ve never played with a front seven that’s as dominant as those guys are, so I’m excited.”
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