Panthers' Final Report Card: Secondary

The Panthers' secondary struggled for a majority of the season until the coaching staff turned to two rookies, Tre Boston and Bene Benwikere. That move, along with the emergence of Josh Norman, turned this position around in a hurry and helped the defense get back to playing like they did in 2013. These are the grades for the players in the Panthers' secondary.

Roman Harper

2014 Stats: 62 total tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 4 interceptions, 1 touchdown, 10 passes defended

Best Game: Week 17 at Atlanta

Notes: Entering this season, I am sure the Panthers organization was not planning on Roman Harper playing the most snaps of any player in the Panthers secondary. However, that is exactly what happened. The veteran leadership of Harper though helped lead this young secondary over the last part of the season and helped put them in positions to succeed. The leadership wasn’t the only thing he brought to the defense though as he did lead the team in interceptions with four. It was apparent though at 32 years of age Harper is losing a step and depending on what the Panthers do in the offseason, 2014 could have been the final season as a full-time starting safety.

Final Grade: B+

 

Josh Norman

2014 Stats: 48 total tackles, 1 forced fumble, 2 interceptions, 11 passes defended

Best Game: Week 16 versus Cleveland

Notes: Fans could look back on Josh Norman’s career and say 2014 was the year he became a shutdown cornerback. After missing Weeks 6 and 7 due to injury, the second-year cornerback started to play at a whole new level. He was shutting down some top wide receivers in the NFL like Jeremy Maclin, Julio Jones, and even Mike Evans (who did have one touchdown but only two receptions all game). If Norman plays at this level for the entire 2015 season, fans should expect the defense they saw after Week 12 more so than the defense at the beginning of the season.

Final Grade: A-

 

Bene Benwikere

2014 Stats: 33 total tackles, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries 1 interception, 7 passes defended

Best Game: Week 17 at Atlanta

Notes: The fifth round rookie didn’t waste any time making his presence known when he recovered a fumble in Week 1 against the Bucs that basically sealed the victory for the Panthers. However, he suffered an injury in Week 5 that forced him to miss a majority of the season. He came back in Week 13 and moved from nickelback to starting outside cornerback and brought his game to a new level. Pro Football Focus gave him an overall rating of 9 over the final five regular season games and two playoff games. The question though is where Benwikere will play in 2015 as he has the ability to play both outside and at nickel. It will be worth watching whether the Panthers’ front office decides to bring in another cornerback this offseason.

Final Grade: B+

 

Tre Boston

2014 Stats: 26 total tackles, 1 interception, 1 pass defended, 1 touchdown

Best Game: Week 17 at Atlanta

Notes: It took about half the season for Boston to get healthy and make it onto the field for the Panthers on Sundays. However once he took over for DeCoud in Week 13 against the Minnesota Vikings, he became a fixture in this secondary. The combination of Boston and Harper at safety worked well for this Panthers’ defense. The big play for Boston came in Week 17 when, like Harper, the rookie safety intercepted Matt Ryan and was able to return it for a touchdown. There is still room for Boston to grow and develop but the experience he gained this year should help speed the process up.

Final Grade: B-

 

Colin Jones

2014 Stats: 27 total tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 3 passes defended

Best Game: Week 15 versus Tampa Bay

Notes: Colin Jones started out the year as one of the Panthers’ backup safeties. When Benwikere went down with injury, then moved to the outside, this opened up an opportunity for Jones to make the move to nickelback. It was apparent how quickly he improved over the last half of the season trying to learn the position on the fly. The last three games of the season it was hard to get him off the field with him playing more than half of the defensive snaps for the Panthers. The emergence of Jones gives the Panthers some flexibility heading into the offseason and it makes cornerback much less of a pressing need.

Final Grade: B-

 

Thomas Decoud

2014 Stats: 50 total tackles, 1 interception, 3 passes defended

Best Game: Week 5 versus Chicago

Notes: One of the biggest disappointments in this position group has to be Thomas DeCoud, aside from Antoine Cason and Charles Godfrey but both of those players were cut during the season. The Panthers signed DeCoud in the offseason to help minimize some of the losses in the secondary from the previous offseason. However, DeCoud struggled for a majority of the season and lost his starting job in Week 13 against the Minnesota Vikings.

Final Grade: D


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