The Carolina Panthers were forced to make some moves on their defensive coaching staff with the departure of Sean McDermott. Head coach Ron Rivera decided last month to promote secondary coach, Steve Wilks, to defensive coordinator. This presented the opportunity for assistant secondary coach, Curtis Fuller, who was named secondary coach.
These were subtle moves but ones that should pay major dividends in 2017 for this defense and in particular their secondary.
After the loss of Josh Norman, the Panthers took a gamble and relied heavily on three rookie cornerbacks. James Bradberry, Daryl Worley and Zack Sanchez all saw signficant playing time and combined played in 34 games with 25 starts.
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This gamble looked like a big mistake early in the season as the team gave up an average of 304.75 passing yards per game to opposing quarterbacks.
However, as the season progressed these rookies started to play better which made it tougher for opposing quarterbacks. The average passing yards against per game dropped almost 50 yards to 260.63 yards.
The steady development can also be proven looking at the games for the Panthers within the division. The three quarterbacks in the NFC South each saw their passing yards drop the second time they played Carolina.
Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan had the biggest drop from 503 passing yards in Week 4 to 277 in Week 16. New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees also had a significant drop from 465 passing yards in Week 6 to 285 in Week 11. Jameis Winston of the Tampa Bay Bucs even had a slight drop from a relatively low total of 219 passing yards in Week 5 to 202 in Week 17.
The Panthers had some major question marks entering last year at the cornerback position. This group improved though over the course of the regular season under the direction of Wilks and Fuller.
By keeping these coaches in the locker room and film room, the rookie cornerbacks should be able to build on a strong finish last year. This will only help the Carolina Panthers’ defense as they look to bounce back.