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Panthers sending strong message with personnel moves

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The message sent by the Carolina Panthers with Tuesday’s personnel moves was clear: perform or look for work elsewhere.

Starting cornerback Antoine Cason was cut two days after giving up an easy 17-yard touchdown catch with 16 seconds left in the first half of Sunday’s 31-13 loss at Minnesota.

Backup linebacker Jason Williams was released after missing an assignment on the first of two blocked punts returned for touchdowns. That he didn’t take responsibility postgame may have played into him being released as well.

Coach Ron Rivera praised linebacker Ben Jacobs for taking the blame on the second block.

There were earlier messages that things were headed in this direction as well. Wide receiver Jason Avant was released two weeks ago after questioning the play calling in the final minutes against Atlanta. Undrafted rookie Philly Brown was given his playing time.

In October, Charles Godfrey was released after consecutive poor performances against Cincinnati and Green Bay.

These decisions and a rash of injuries to the offensive line have left the Panthers with potentially six rookies or second-year players starting and several others getting significant playing time in this Sunday’s game at New Orleans.

It’s a game, by the way, Carolina (3-8-1) has to win in order to keep its dying hopes of winning the NFC South alive.

Let’s take a look at the youth movement:

  • CB Bene’ Benwikere – Were it not for an ankle sprain that kept him out six weeks he might have had a more prominent role earlier. The fifth-round pick out of San Jose State was the nickel corner before the injury. He replaced Cason as an every-down corner in the second half against Minnesota and played well enough to earn a positive grade (plus-1.6) from Pro Football Focus. He also forced a fumble. That he has emerged should be no surprise. The Panthers liked him so much they traded up to get him in the fifth round of the draft.

  • FS Tre Boston – A sports hernia sidelined the fourth-round pick for much of offseason workouts and the preseason, so his progress has been slowed. But after Thomas DeCoud bit on a touchdown catch in the first quarter against Minnesota, Boston got the call. He had to leave with an ankle injury, but that isn’t expected to keep him from playing this week.

  • LG Andrew Norwell – The undrafted rookie out of Ohio State was forced into the lineup when starter Amini Silatolu began having knee issues. He played well enough that when Silatolu attempted to return last week Norwell stayed at guard and Silatolu went to tackle.

  • RG Trai Turner – The third-round pick out of LSU has been in and out of the lineup due to injuries since training camp. He graded out at minus-2.6 against Minnesota, but the Panthers believe he will be a starter for many years.

  • RT Mike Remmers – The second-year undrafted player out of Oregon State made his first career start against Minnesota and did remarkably well. PFF gave him a plus-0.8 grade, which compared to what Carolina’s other tackles have done this season is a major accomplishment. Left tackle Byron Bell graded out at minus-6.2.

  • WR Kelvin Benjamin – The first-round pick out of Florida State has been the starter all season, so he’s not new to the lineup. He’s having a stellar season with 57 catches for 824 yards and eight touchdowns.

Other rookies expected to see an increased role include second-round pick Kony Ealy, a defensive end out of Missouri, Brown and cornerback Cary Byndom.

The Panthers haven’t admitted to making mistakes in the offseason with the veterans these players are replacing, but their message is clear moving forward.