The Panthers will go into Sunday’s game against the Giants with two starting safeties and just one backup.
With Quintin Mikell and D.J. Moore out for the game, Colin Jones is the lone backup for the Panthers a week after he was considered their “emergency safety.” Undrafted rookie Robert Lester will start at strong safety and Mike Mitchell will start at free safety.
“We’ve worked a couple guys at the safety position trying to get a few extra reps in and stuff like that,” Ron Rivera said Friday. “If we got into a situation we’d have to find one.”
Rivera has said the team will try to use Lester in ways that don’t expose the rookie, who was brought up from the practice squad Tuesday and will start his first NFL game this week.
“We wanted to keep him around just in case and lo and behold, Week 3, just in case,” Rivera said. “He’s a smart kid, he really is. He understands concepts. He comes from a very good program. A lot of people want to say there’s a position, as far as defense is concerned, you really consider coming from Alabama, it’s the defensive backs because they’re very well-coached and that’s what Coach (Nick) Saban is, he’s a defensive backs coach.”
Cornerback Josh Thomas (concussion) tweeted Friday afternoon that he will not play Sunday after failing to be cleared by an independent doctor. The Panthers will likely start Josh Norman, who is listed on the injury report as probable with a knee injury, or veteran Drayton Florence, who signed this week, at cornerback opposite Captain Munnerlyn.
Cornerback James Dockery (thumb/shoulder) is questionable, and Rivera said he will be a game-time decision.
On the defensive line, Dwan Edwards is “very, very questionable” with a hamstring injury that’s plagued him since the preseason. Rivera was not optimistic about Edwards’ status and said the team will likely know Saturday if he can play. Veteran Colin Cole would start in his place.
The defensive line will be going up against a patchwork New York Giants offensive line, but don’t look to get any sympathy from Rivera.
“You trying to get sympathy from me about people being banged up, it’s not happening. It’s not happening,” Rivera joked. “Now they have a group of guys who are going to start together for the first time two weeks in a row. We’ve got to be better than their guys. Our front seven has got to be able to handle theirs. And we got to be able to do that.”
Blackburn reps: Through two weeks, linebacker Chase Blackburn has gotten zero defensive snaps, but Rivera hopes that will change Sunday.
Blackburn, who is coming off the best season of his career, played the first eight years with the Giants before coming to the Panthers this offseason.
“Yes. Yes. You most certainly do,” Rivera said about playing Blackburn against New York. “And again part of it too is you have to play the personnel that you’re opposed. The last two weeks, the trend being everyone plays 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three receivers) because everyone plays the spread 11. So you get three wide receivers, you’re taking a linebacker off the field. It just happens to be the position that Jon Beason and Chase Blackburn play and that’s the will. When that happens you got to react to how it is.”
Blackburn has been very active on the special teams unit but has not been able to wrestle away snaps from Beason, who is coming off microfracture knee surgery and needs live-action snaps to improve his less-than-stellar play this year.
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