CHARLOTTE – It took Corn Elder far longer than he expected to come back from a knee problem in his rookie season. But the progress continues, and he's progressively playing more and more of a role for the Panthers this year.
The fourth-year cornerback registered a career-high eight tackles in last week's loss to the Buccaneers and has been given more and more responsibility as the weeks have gone by.
With games against the Falcons, Chiefs, and Buccaneers the last three weeks, the Panthers knew they'd be spending more time in nickel, and Elder has shown up well with the increased workload.
He's played 160 snaps of defense the last three weeks, nearly as many as he had the first seven games combined (174).
"I think it's mostly been situational. We knew we were going to need to be able to cover more, so that meant more playing time for me," said Elder, who forced his first career fumble against the Chiefs. "I feel like I held my own the last few weeks. But mostly, I just want to play hard and fast and make sure I make the plays in front of me."
Playing for a process-driven coach like Matt Rhule, that's the kind of approach players have to take. Watching film after the loss to the Bucs can be difficult, but Elder said his focus has been looking at himself with a critical eye and fixing what he can fix.
"It definitely sucked, it definitely wasn't anything we looked forward to," he admitted of the Tampa Bay tape. "But every day when we watch film, we just have to see what went wrong. Things are never as bad as they look at first, but you have to see what happened and make your corrections, and then shift your focus to what's next."
At least Elder's used to having to reset expectations.
The 2017 fifth-rounder spent his rookie year on injured reserve because of a knee injury (a patella stress fracture), and he played 13 games the following year. He said he never really felt back to himself physically until training camp in 2019, but the Panthers cut him that summer, and he spent 10 weeks on the Giants practice squad before coming back to Carolina last November. Now, the fact he's seeing bigger snap counts feels like another step in the right direction.
"It's definitely been a journey, but you can only control what you can control," he said. "Coming back from that knee injury was a long road, and especially when you're first getting in the league and you're excited and ready to go make your mark. That kind of prepared me for the worst."
Coming back with a new coaching staff, and finally feeling healthy enough, has given him a fresh outlook.
"I definitely view this as an opportunity to show what I can do," Elder said. "I just look at it as a chance to show this staff what I'm capable of, and then go out and focus on what I need to do."
Carolina leads the all-time series with Detroit, 7-3.