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Notebook: Secondary getting closer to healthy

Jaycee Horn

CHARLOTTE — All season, the Panthers have been scrambling for replacements in the secondary.

Suddenly, they might actually be close to having a full complement of defensive backs.

While safety Vonn Bell seems less likely to go after missing the last two days of practice, cornerback CJ Henderson has practiced fully for two straight days and is only awaiting independent neurologist clearance to be through the concussion protocol, while Jaycee Horn and Jeremy Chinn continue to practice and could be activated from IR as soon as this weekend.

Horn's been out since tearing his hamstring in the opener, so there's a natural apprehension.

"We'll see on Sunday," Horn said when pressed about his status Thursday. "It does make you anxious just because like the healthier you get, you want to be out there like you feel like you do it. But also, you've got to be smart about it, just understand the position you're in and make sure you're A-1 before you come back.

Horn said he wanted to be part of a larger whole when he returns, since the secondary has played well through all the replacements.

"The defense has been playing great these last couple of weeks," he said. "And when I'm out there, I just want to be another piece of the puzzle and keep the thing going."

Defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero has dealt with this all season. Last week, he had to hold his breath when Long went down for a moment in Tennessee, since he was replacing Bootle, who was replacing Henderson, who was replacing Horn.

As he has in the past, he credited assistant coaches DeAngelo Hall, Bobby Maffei, and Mayur Chaudhari for helping keep all the new guys caught up.

"There's been so many guys that have filled in and given us quality reps," Evero said. "And again, I can't thank the coaches enough. All the assistant coaches, quality control coaches are helping get these guys ready. And so it's been a team effort.

"And, really, honestly, I have little to do with it because I'm more on the game planning part of it."

The Panthers also claimed cornerback Shaquill Griffin off waivers Thursday, adding another experienced corner to the mix. Since he's still en route to Charlotte, it might not be realistic to have him on the field this week, but it can't hurt having a guy with 78 career starts in the mix.

— Interim coach Chris Tabor has tried to lighten the mood a bit this week with the natural pressures that come with an in-season coaching change.

And because of that inherent stress, offensive coordinator Thomas Brown said they wanted to help players play freely.

"Overall, just being able to get our guys to just relax and go cut it loose," Brown said. "I think I kind of addressed the guys yesterday as far as a feeling of sometimes being wound up too tight or afraid to make mistakes and just get these guys back to having fun, being confident playing good ball."

— The Bucs have their own problems at the moment, with the league's 27th-ranked defense (31st against the pass), and some injury issues cropping up. Their top three inside linebackers (including Lavonte David) did not participate in Thursday's practice.

No one here is feeling sorry for that, but the Panthers also have something of an element of surprise in their favor.

Since it's impossible to know what a Tabor-Brown-Jim Caldwell offense will actually look like, it's a challenge to plan against.

Asked what kind of changes they'd make to the game plan this week, Brown grinned and said: "We'll find out on Sunday."

View photos from the Panthers' practice on Thursday.

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