Dockery next up at nickel


CHARLOTTE – A month ago, James Dockery would have done anything to again share a locker room with Charles Godfrey and the Panthers' other defensive backs.

Wednesday, Dockery moved into Godfrey's locker.

"It's a little weird. You don't ever want to see anybody go that you've shared blood, sweat and tears with, but it's the nature of the beast," said Dockery, who is slated to start in the nickel cornerback spot that Godfrey manned Sunday, two days before the seven-year veteran was released. "We've seen things like this happen before, but it definitely touches you a little bit. Godfrey was so instrumental with his presence in the DB room since I've been here. But this is a business, and if we don't perform, it can be any one of us."

Dockery was waived by the Panthers in the final roster cutdown but was re-signed October 7 with cornerbacks Bene Benwikere and Josh Norman sidelined by injuries. Benwikere had been starting at nickel before suffering an ankle injury in the Panthers' victory over the Chicago Bears on October 5.

Head coach Ron Rivera said Dockery would be the first man up at nickel when the Seattle Seahawks visit Bank of America Stadium on Sunday.

"It was a very tough move," Rivera said. "More so than anything else, it was about getting an opportunity to see some young guys that we're looking at.

"There are some things we want to look at. As we go through the rest of the week, we'll evaluate. We'll see."

Rivera said the team has yet to make "the corresponding move" in response to releasing Godfrey, suggesting that another defensive back could be added to the 53-man roster at some point.

The 10-man practice squad includes second-year safety Robert Lester – who has bounced back and forth between the active roster and practice squad this year – and rookie cornerback Carrington Byndom.

Then there's De'Andre Presley, who practiced at wide receiver during his first week back at practice last week. Presley can practice for three weeks before the Panthers decide whether to remove him from the physically unable to perform list, and Wednesday he practiced at nickel corner.

"I came into the NFL as a corner, and you learn nickel within the defense. Now it's just about learning the techniques," Presley said. "It's a challenge, but it's fun. If you stick to what you're coached to do, you'll be fine."

At this moment, though, with Benwikere still sidelined, the pivotal positon belongs to Dockery.

"My comfort level with playing nickel is great, and it's getting to be even more so as I go," Dockery said. "At first I was a little rusty, but the coaches have been doing a great job of putting me in the positions I'm going to see in the game, and I think I've done a good job with it so far."

Dockery replaced Godfrey in the latter stages of the Packers game at nickel, a position that appears to be more and more vital with each passing season as the NFL becomes more of a passing league. In multiple games this year – though it might not be the case against Seattle – the Panthers have featured a fifth defensive back on more than half of their defensive snaps.

"Offenses are spreading out the field, and some of the easiest throws are right there in the slot," Dockery said. "So some of the best athletes in the league are now on the inside. It's definitely a valuable position."

Godfrey played a role in Dockery's development, and he might in effect continue to do so. Dockery already understood the tenuous nature of his employment, and sliding into Godfrey's position – and his locker – only serves to reiterate that fact.

"I've been reminded that the NFL stands for 'Not For Long,' " Dockery said, "so I'm going to do my best to make sure I can stay."

QUICK HITS:Rivera said the NFL informed the Panthers that linebacker Luke Kuechly shouldn't have been ejected and won't be fined for making inadvertent contact with an official against Green Bay. "I'm definitely in agreement on it, and I appreciate the memo we got from the league," Rivera said. … Left tackle Bryon Bell (elbow) practiced on a limited basis Wednesday, but wide receiver Philly Brown (concussion) was among 10 Panthers who didn't practice. If Brown can't play, Rivera said wide receiver Brenton Bersin would be the first option at kick and punt return, with running back Darrin Reaves, wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery and quarterback Joe Webb getting reps at kickoff return.

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