Carolina secondary has Week 1 opportunity

Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was a freshman at the University of South Carolina in 2006 when the coaching staff lined him up against hotshot wide receiver Sidney Rice in practice.

Keep in mind, at 5-foot-8 Munnerlyn was dwarfed by the 6-4 Rice, who was on his way to breaking the school record for receiving touchdowns.

"Everybody was like, 'Uh, oh!' '' Munnerlyn recalled.

Here's where the story gets good. The South Carolina quarterback threw a jump ball to take advantage of Rice's superior height and leaping ability. Munnerlyn, not intimidated at all, surprised everybody by coming down with the ball.

Gasps followed.

"That's how I [made] my name down there in Columbia,'' Munnerlyn said with a smile. "I don't know if you remember, but I wore No. 30. The next day I was No. 1.''

I share this story because a couple of young members in Carolina's secondary have a chance to make names for themselves in Sunday's 1 p.m. opener against Rice and the high-powered Seattle Seahawks.

Most of the talk his week is how big and physical the Seattle's cornerbacks are, and how young and inexperienced Carolina's are. That's fair considering Seattle corner Brandon Browner is a Pro Bowler, and Richard Sherman was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in July.

The Seattle cornerbacks are surrounded by Pro Bowl safeties as well.

Carolina's cornerbacks are Munnerlyn and, according to Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, the "Josh guys'' -- Josh Thomas and Josh Norman. None are big, and Thomas (5-11) has only four career starts.

On paper it looks like an "uh oh'' moment.

But as Munnerlyn reminded, this is an opportunity.

"We know they've got good corners on the other side of the field,'' the fifth-year player said of Seattle. "I've been preaching all week to JT and Josh [Norman] that when we are on the field to show what we've got.

"They're always talking about the Seattle corners, (how) they're physical. But we have a physical group, too. We'll see on Sunday who has the best game. If we outplay their secondary, I feel we'll be pretty good and win this game.''

This game indeed could come down to the secondary for both teams. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton must find a way to be more efficient against Seattle. In Week 5 last season, he completed only 45.4 percent of his passes in a 16-12 loss to the Seahawks.

The Panthers must find a way to slow Wilson, who was 19-for-25 for 221 yards and a touchdown against them last season. They must find a way to improve over last season's NFL-high 66.85 completion percentage against them.

Having a front seven that stacks up against most in the league will help if it can pressure Wilson. And as Munnerlyn reminded, last season Carolina intercepted Wilson twice -- including Munnerlyn's 33-year return for a touchdown.

So, while Carolina appears to be the forgotten secondary in this matchup, there is an opportunity to change that.

"We've just got to make plays,'' Munnerlyn said.