RENTON, Wash. – The Carolina Panthers will start three rookies in the secondary Saturday against the Seattle Seahawks, but believe it or not, those young players made the Carolina defense better down the stretch.
The Panthers went on their five-game winning streak, including last Saturday's playoff victory over Arizona, after moving rookie cornerbacks Carrington Byndom and Bené Benwikere into the starting lineup. Carolina also starts rookie Tre Boston at free safety.
None of them started in the Panthers' game against the Seahawks in Charlotte, N.C., on Oct. 26, which the Seahawks won 13-9. Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin is impressed with what he has seen on tape of the rookie trio in the Carolina secondary.
“They’re athletic, very talented guys,” Baldwin said. “They’re obviously still young, so they’re still getting a feel for it, but they pose a threat to us because of how athletic they are.
“They don’t play like rookies. They play like they’ve been in the system for a while, so we have to be on our game when we’re facing them, making sure that we’re not making dumb mistakes. We have to be on top of our routes and making sure that we’re not taking for granted that they’re young guys because they have shown a propensity to make plays.”
It’s was a gutsy call by Carolina coach Ron Rivera to insert rookies into the starting lineup in the secondary in the middle of the season, but it worked.
“The improvements in the secondary really helped to settle things down for us,” Rivera said. “We had veteran guys back there that did things the right way, but I think we needed to be more athletic and little more aggressive. That’s was the thought behind that decision. It was the need for speed.”