Injured Godfrey continues to inspire

CHARLOTTE N.C. -- Charles Godfrey is relaxing in front of his locker, his right leg in a boot cast as he continues to recover from the season-ending Achilles injury suffered in Week 2.

He doesn't have to be here, but he wants to be here, studying film and doing whatever he can to help the Carolina Panthers remain on their hot streak.

"If I can help somebody in the secondary or if I see something, I help out," the veteran free safety says.

Godfrey could be bitter or jealous that he's not directly a part of a team that has won three straight and four of five games to push its record (4-3) above .500 for the first time since 2008, but he's not. In many ways, he epitomizes the team attitude that permeates this locker room.

"It makes it a lot better for me that the team is out there and they're winning and doing what they're supposed to do," he says. "To see those guys out there playing and doing well, it makes me feel at ease doing my rehab."

Godfrey's play in a secondary full of questions during the preseason and first two games was a bright spot. Coach Ron Rivera couldn't say enough good things about his leadership.

The irony here is that Godfrey's replacement, Mike Mitchell, has been a bright spot. He's brought a physicality and attitude to the defense that Rivera says "is spreading among our players."

Again, Godfrey isn't bitter or jealous. He actually said before the season for Carolina's defense to improve "everybody has to be good," from the starters to the third group.

"You don't know who is going to play, when something is going to happen in the season, who is going to go down," Godfrey said before the season.

Godfrey didn't expect to be one of those that went down, but he's not surprised Mitchell has stepped up. He's also not surprised the coaches like Mitchell's physicality and attitude that has gotten him five fines this season for about $45,000.

"The thing about it, it has to be a controlled violence,'' Godfrey says. "Mike's doing a good job controlling that. ... If he keeps playing the way he is, the league will eventually kind of back up off him and see that's how he plays. But he has to play a little smarter on some of those plays."

Godfrey is looking pretty smart these days. He predicted during offseason workouts that the defense had a chance to be special and that the secondary would be much improved.

"Everybody is saying our front seven is great because it's true," Godfrey said at the time. "But we're good also and you'll see. We'll make plays on the ball. I said in OTAs I don't think I've ever been a part of a group that took such a big step as far as breaking on the ball, making plays, not being timid and being all on one page."

Through seven games, the Panthers rank third in the league in defense. A big reason for that is the secondary that ranks ninth against the pass, a big improvement over a year ago.

"With me being out it doesn't change anything," Godfrey says. "It's all about the team and our bond and how we've come together in the locker room."

A big reason for that bond is Godfrey, which is why he was here when he didn't have to be, which is why he's as much a part of Carolina's hot streak as anybody on the field.

"I've been here for a while," says Godfrey, who in 2008 became the first Carolina rookie to start all 16 games at safety. "Just being in the locker room and being around different players and going through the season, just a different feel, man.

"That's something I felt. I felt that it was going to be a good year for us and we were going to do good."

With or without him.