Carolina DBs take wounded dog approach

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers' secondary situation might not be as dire as advertised.

Starting left cornerback Josh Thomas told ESPN.com he expects to be cleared to play on Thursday. Thomas suffered a concussion in the second quarter of Sunday's 24-23 loss to the Buffalo Bills and has been undergoing the league's mandatory testing.

Mike Mitchell, who was the starting strong safety throughout most of the preseason until suffering a calf injury and losing the job to Quintin Mikell (ankle), will move to free safety to replace Charles Godfrey (Achilles, injured reserve).

Starting right cornerback Captain Munnerlyn is healthy.

So that leaves strong safety as the only spot where the Panthers will be inexperienced. Robert Lester, who was signed from the practice squad on Tuesday, will start as things stand now.

There's also a chance backup cornerback Josh Norman (thigh, knee) could be ready. And James Dockery is back after missing the first two games with a thumb injury.

In other words, the Panthers (0-2) believe they'll be ready on Sunday for the New York Giants (0-2) and quarterback Eli Manning, who is second in the NFL in total passing yards.

"If you're sleeping on our secondary, you'll get a rude awakening,'' Mitchell said defiantly on Wednesday.

Coach Ron Rivera wasn't that enthusiastic. He admitted the secondary is a concern, but it has been throughout the preseason when everybody was healthy.

What Rivera likes is the way players have stepped up, particularly Mitchell.

"He was solid,'' Rivera said of Mitchell's practice. "I'm excited about that.''

The injuries will impact the depth and ability to run nickel packages. But it shouldn't be as bad as it was on Sunday at Buffalo when the Panthers were so thin that they couldn't play nickel for a quarter, and at times had linebackers playing the slot receiver out of a base defense.

Rivera said the team will duplicate those reps in practice this week just in case. He also will rep a cornerback to play safety with the potential for only three healthy players if Mikell is sidelined.

For the most part, the Panthers are taking the wounded animal approach -- as in, you don't approach a wounded animal.

"I was a starter,'' Mitchell said. "I am a starter. I'm going to continue to be one. I love the guys in our secondary. I love the men we have. I want the guys that I have in my room.

"I cannot wait to get out and play this game. Right now we have that underdog, back-against-the-wall mentality. You've got to live for this, man.''