Florence and Panthers need each other

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There's nothing like a two-week vacation without pay.

That pretty much sums up what happened to veteran cornerback Drayton Florence, who was re-signed by the Carolina Panthers on Wednesday night after being cut following the final preseason game in August.

That pretty much sums up the injury-riddled Carolina secondary.

Florence has gone from taking his son to swim lessons to possibly starting at left corner in Sunday's 1 p.m. game against the New York Giants.

Then there's rookie Robert Lester, who went from the practice squad to definitely starting at strong safety.

When they say next man up in the NFL, they mean it. Florence is just happy for the opportunity after being at home on opening day for the first time since he was selected in the second round of the 2003 draft.

Now he has a couple of days to get ready for the Giants, who lead the league in passing.

"I'm ready,'' Florence said. "This is my opening day.''

Florence most definitely will play. Whether he starts depends on Josh Thomas being cleared by doctors after suffering a concussion in Sunday's 24-23 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Thomas practiced on a limited basis on Thursday, as did backup Josh Norman (thigh bruise), and is optimistic he'll be cleared.

But as head coach Ron Rivera said, the signing of Florence "was a very prudent move.''

He's insurance.

He's also a veteran who may be able to help a young group that even before the rash of injuries against Buffalo -- the most severe free safety Charles Godfrey lost for the year with a torn Achilles -- struggled to stop the pass.

Opposing quarterbacks have completed 72.2 percent of their attempts, a big reason for the 0-2 start. Only the Washington Redskins at 73.1 are worse.

"It's like he never left,'' Rivera said of Florence. "He did a nice job of understanding what we're doing, the concepts we're using for this game, and he just fit right in. It was good to have him back in the meetings and the practice field. It was kind of neat watching him work with some of the younger guys, too.''

The Panthers need experience even though they are excited about the young, athletic potential of Thomas and Norman. Of the starters without Florence, no member of the secondary has been in the league more than five seasons.

"I always thought it was very athletic,'' Florence said of the secondary before he was cut. "We were taking the underdog approach. It was something we kind of established in training camp.

"[But] those things don't mean much until you start winning games.''

The Panthers need Florence almost as much as he needs them. After several weeks of taking the kids to school in Jacksonville, Fla., his wife "was a little bit tired of me hanging around the house.''

"We're all happy now,'' said Florence, who has offers from right cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards to sleep on their couch or spare bed. "I'm just coming here to help the team out anyway I can.''