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Munnerlyn won't back down

Posted Aug 7, 2012

SPARTANBURG, S.C. - Near the end of the first week of training camp, many people's ears perked up when Panthers head coach Ron Rivera called cornerback Captain Munnerlyn the "defensive Steve Smith."

Rivera was making the comparison based on Munnerlyn's competitive edge rather his on-field credentials.

But while Smith continues to leave all other Panthers receivers to vie for the No. 2 spot, Munnerlyn's competitive nature has him aiming for the No. 1 cornerback spot – even as some suggest he might not be able to hold down the No. 2 spot.

"They might be coming for my job, but I'm coming for Chris Gamble's job. I want to be the No. 1 corner," Munnerlyn said. "I remind Gam that, ‘Hey, they're coming for me, but I'm trying to come for you.'

"It's just a competition thing - something we like doing. If you're not a competitor, you shouldn't play this game."

It's no surprise that Munnerlyn and Smith got into a pushing match earlier in training camp that led Rivera to call Munnerlyn over for a chat. Once the ball goes up in the air, Munnerlyn and Smith play for keeps whether it's a scrimmage or the Super Bowl.

That's one of the reasons that Munnerlyn, at 5-8, continues to beat the odds by beating out others for his starting spot.

"A little attitude, but he's got the right kind of temperament," Rivera said. "He shows up every day to work. He doesn't take plays off.

"He might get a nick here or there, but the thing that is interesting is he bounces back and just keeps going."

The prospects most cited as challengers to Munnerlyn's post – second-year corner Brandon Hogan and rookie Josh Norman – have missed more than a week with hamstring injuries.

Rivera is hopeful that Norman can return in the next couple of days, but when he does, he'll find an even more competitive situation. Darius Butler, the No. 3 corner most of last season, has sparkled at times during camp, and so have returners R.J. Stanford and Josh Thomas and newcomer Nate Ness.

"So far, so good," said Butler, who arrived at camp with a sharpened focus after enduring his infant daughter's life-threatening heart condition midway through the 2011 season. "She's doing good, actually just turned one year old on August 3rd. The worst is behind us.

"Football usually takes the lead during the season, but when that happened, football took a back seat. It was a distraction for a lack of a better word, but now that she's doing well, I'm able to focus more on football."

Butler said the corners cheer each other on when a fellow corner makes a good play, but the competition remains heated nonetheless. Beside the soft-spoken Gamble, Munnerlyn is the leader of that pack.

"He's fun because he's feisty," Stanford said. "He brings a lot of energy. He's one of those guys who is going to get in your face and be aggressive."

Munnerlyn, in addition to battling worthy adversaries, also battles himself at times. His aggression sometimes gets him in a bit of trouble – not just with Smith – something he's been working on.

"I can get a little chippy out there, so Coach Rivera has talked to me about toning it down a little bit, about being smart, because in the game it might cost you 15 yards," Munnerlyn said. "Some big receivers use my aggressiveness to their advantage. They let me beat them up at the line and then, poof, the ball is right there, and I never saw the ball.

"When you're a person like me that's got ‘Little Man Syndrome,' it's kind of hard, but it's something I'm working on to get better."

Munnerlyn is counting on the Panthers defense being better across the board in 2012, whether he's starting or coming in for the nickel package.

Regardless of Munnerlyn's eventual role, the Panthers can benefit from a little Captain.

"We've got a lot at stake," Munnerlyn said. "Ryan Kalil went out and said we were going to win the Super Bowl, and I'm a person who likes stuff like that. I'm going to go out there and work hard every day and try to get to the Super Bowl.

"It's going to be a fun year. I'm excited. I'm ready to play."