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Carolina Panthers

Gamble leads corners into 2012


CHARLOTTE - Last season, cornerback Chris Gamble made history.

This season, Gamble and his fellow corners want to make amends.

Gamble, who became the Panthers' all-time interception leader in 2011 with an impressive bounce-back season, believes the defense will bounce back collectively in 2012 after ranking in the bottom 10 of the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns allowed.

"We're anxious to get out there and prove a lot of people wrong," Gamble said. "We have a young group of guys, but we're going to go out there and make plays and cause turnovers."

Gamble is the undisputed elder statesman of the group by any definition.

He's played in 119 games over his eight NFL seasons, more than the six other corners on the 90-man roster combined. While the other six have 11 interceptions between them, Gamble has 27, surpassing the previous franchise record of 25 by Eric Davis with three last season.

Gamble didn't have any interceptions in 2010, the only time that's happened in his career. The new coaching staff, however, put immense faith in Gamble last season by consistently putting him on the opponent's top receiver. He responded by holding the likes of Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson in check.

Gamble believes the entire secondary will have a similar response this season.

"I love this defense, and now that I've got a year under my belt, I feel more comfortable and am ready to make more plays," Gamble said. "We've got some good cornerbacks, and all of them are looking good."

Gamble plans to compete for his spot, though the real competition should be on the side opposite him. Captain Munnerlyn held that position last season, but second-year pro Brandon Hogan and rookie Josh Norman are expected to challenge.

"When you look at the group of young guys, one of them has got to step up and become that No. 2 guy," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "Whether it's Captain staying at the No. 2 and being the nickel as well, or if it's another guy stepping up and becoming the No. 2, it's a good competition. That's probably the most important thing, that we have competition at as many positions as possible."

While Munnerlyn and Darius Butler are relative veterans in the group behind Gamble, Norman and Hogan are relative unknowns.

"Josh has a lot of learning to do, and I'm going to be there to help him and keep him on his feet," Gamble said. "He's always around the ball. He's tall, kind of like me, and I can see some physicality in him. He's an athlete.

"Brandon is doing well out there technique-wise. He's making plays, just doing his thing. Everybody is doing well in the secondary."

With an up-and-coming pair like Norman and Hogan in the mix, Gamble knows he can't let up. He showed last season that he's still got what it takes, and now he wants to take it to another level.

"This defense is set up for us to make plays," Gamble said. "I feel like I did that last year, and this year I want to come up with even more plays. I just need to study more film, know the opponents' weaknesses and make plays on the ball, and I want to be more consistent with what I'm doing."

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