Panthers hope return of Captain Munnerlyn helps continuity in secondary

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- During Captain Munnerlyn’s first go-round with the Carolina Panthers, he remembers a time when the secondary wasn’t highly regarded. He heard the kind of things that stuck in his craw then and continue to stick with him today, four years later.

“We was a lot of ‘no-name’ guys,” Munnerlyn said Thursday. “Y’all always said, ‘Who is that in their secondary?’”

In fact, when the Panthers were on Monday Night Football in 2013 and analyst Jon Gruden called them a “no-name” group, Munnerlyn couldn’t let it go.

“I remember seeing that clip and I was like, ‘OK, before I leave tonight, they’re going to know my name.’” Munnerlyn said. “That’s how I used it for motivation.”

That season, the Panthers’ defense was second in the NFL in yards allowed and sixth in the league in passing yards allowed. Not bad for a bunch of “no-names.”

This season, Munnerlyn’s first back with the Panthers after three with Minnesota, the cornerback sees some similarities.

A year after being forced to start two rookies in James Bradberry and Daryl Worley and rotating through nine defensive backs in starting slots, the Panthers are hoping they have found some stability and veteran leadership. Munnerlyn has returned, Carolina has added veteran Mike Adams, and Bradberry and Worley are a year wiser.

And the Panthers are hopeful the experience will make all the difference this season.

“I feel pretty good about it, I really do,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “We’re still trying to work somebody else in and that’s Mike Adams. The plus is we’ve got a guy like Captain back at the nickel position. He’s a guy we tried to replace the last [three] years, that productivity he had those two years he was our nickel. It’s pretty outstanding to have him back and hopefully we can get that type of productivity again from the nickel position.”

The Panthers still are waiting for Munnerlyn to actually get back on the field first. The cornerback has been nursing a hamstring injury for the past two weeks, one he suffered when working out in his hometown of Mobile, Alabama.

“My trainer back at home, he actually told me, ‘We done for the day.’” Munnerlyn said. “I was like, ‘Nah, I feel good. Let’s do something extra,’ thinking I’m still young, thinking I’m 21, 22 years old. Nah, I’m not that young no more.”

Munnerlyn is 29 years old now. And while he isn’t seeing on-field action yet, he still is finding a way to make his seemingly non-stop voice heard. He believes his vocal presence and the maturity of Bradberry and Worley will help a secondary that last season ranked 29th in passing yards allowed.

“It’s tough to start two rookie corners in the NFL,” Munnerlyn said. “[Quarterbacks are] licking their chops like, ‘Man, they got two rookie guys out there. I’m going to welcome them to the NFL.’ It’s definitely tough. It’s a longer season. You never know when those guys will hit their rookie wall. I know my rookie year, around October, I was like, ‘Man, when is the season going to be over?’”

Now, though, Munnerlyn is back and ready to embrace his role as a veteran leader in the secondary.

This go-round with the Panthers, after all, he’s already made a name for himself.

“My name is Captain, so ... yeah. I embrace it,” he said.