Panthers betting experience pays off with Drayton Florence

May 4, 2013 

The senior member of the Panthers' secondary is the guy who's been around Charlotte the shortest time.

But cornerback Drayton Florence has been in the NFL for 11 seasons, and the Panthers are betting that experience will benefit the team's young corners.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who was in San Diego for a season with Florence, thinks Florence can still play, too.

Florence has not played at the level of Chris Gamble, the man he essentially replaced. But he's not been a slouch, either. You don't start 99 games at corner in the NFL unless you have talent.

Florence, 32, was starting for Detroit last season when he was injured in a Week 2 loss at San Francisco.

Vernon Davis, the 49ers' 250-pound tight end, caught a short pass in the flat near the end of the first half, turned upfield and was met by the 6-foot, 193-pound Florence.

Florence's forearm lost.

Florence remained in the game, not realizing until later he had broken his arm. He was on injured reserve for eight weeks and ended up starting just three games, his fewest since his rookie season in San Diego.

“My first major injury after 11 years in the league, so I wasn't too upset about it,” Florence said last week in a phone interview from his offseason home in Jacksonville, Fla. “Those types of things happen. Unfortunately, it just happened so early in the season.”

Florence, a second-round pick out of Tuskegee in 2003, does not have a history of missing games with nagging, soft-tissue injuries. He started 45 of the 46 games he played in three seasons in Buffalo.

Florence had three interceptions in both 2010 and 2011, leading the Bills in pass breakups both years. But Buffalo released Florence last May after drafting South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore 10th overall.

Florence was with Denver through training camp before landing in Detroit after the Broncos cut him.

Florence went to the playoffs three times with the Chargers early in his career. But the three teams he's played on since – he had a 1-year stint in Jacksonville after leaving San Diego – have averaged 5 wins a season.

Like Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, Florence is getting antsy to get back to the postseason.

Asked if he expected to start this season, Florence said: “My expectation is to win games and get in the playoffs.”

That sounds like a veteran willing to accept whatever role he is asked to fill here. That could mean taking Gamble's starting spot or tutoring the three corners who saw the bulk of playing time at the end of last season – Josh Thomas, Josh Norman and James Dockery, all 25 or younger.

The Panthers are more experienced at the nickel position after re-signing Captain Munnerlyn and bringing in former Chicago defensive back D.J. Moore.

“There's a lot of great talent already here,” Florence said. “Me and D.J. Moore came in just to provide a little more depth and a little more competition.”

Florence said he's watched a little tape of the Panthers' secondary. He called Thomas and Norman “great athletes” and was complimentary of free safety Charles Godfrey.

“He's been a very productive player for a while,” Florence said. “He's a guy that stuck out to me on film.”

Florence also likes what the Panthers did in the draft, taking defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short with their first two picks.

“On paper, those guys are beasts,” he said. “I was looking at some film on the guy from Utah (Lotulelei) and he was just manhandling guys. Putting the O-lineman five feet in the backfield and making the play. Having a guy with an inside presence like that and the guys we have coming off the edge, that makes our job a lot easier in the secondary.”

Florence is looking forward to his first minicamp with Carolina to get a better feel for his new teammates' strengths and weaknesses. Before that, however, Florence will help out another group of young athletes.

Florence will join several other NFL players this week in Haiti as part of an international road safety campaign aimed at curbing youth traffic deaths. Florence will play in a soccer game against young Haitians and pass out specially designed soccer balls that never go flat, even when punctured.

Florence participated in a similar event in Malawi in February. He said the kids love the indestructible balls.

“They're not playing on nice, grassy fields. They're pretty much playing on rocks and nails and glass and everything. So these balls won't destruct,” Florence said. “And they're really going to enjoy being able to get out and spend an hour or two a day, taking their mind off what's going on.”

Three extra points

•  Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman gave WFNZ's hosts something to talk about Thursday when he would not rule out the possibility of trading running back DeAngelo Williams. Why would he? If a team makes Gettleman a great offer for Williams, he'll listen.

But the one or two teams that called the Panthers about Williams before the trade deadline last season weren't offering much, and Gettleman won't give Williams away. But drafting Kenjon Barner in the sixth round gives Gettleman more options if he's ready to cut Williams and his hefty salary loose next year.

•  Gettleman downplayed the fact that the wide bodies he took with the first three picks each has a history of being too big. Guard Edmund Kugbila weighed 400 pounds as a freshman at Valdosta State, and Short has said he was “way overweight” when he arrived at Purdue.

The Panthers would be wise to keep an eye on Kugbila, Short and Lotulelei when they step on the scale or file through the buffet line at Wofford.

No matter how big a person's frame, carrying too much weight can lead to injuries and make recovering from injuries that much harder.

Ask Jeff Otah.

•  Anyone who attended UNC's pro day last year should have seen the Jets' move of Quinton Coples from defensive end to linebacker coming. After Coples went through the defensive line drills, the only head coach in attendance asked Coples to go through the linebacker drills.

The coach?

Rex Ryan.

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