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Panthers strengthen secondary


CHARLOTTE – The Panthers continued to strengthen their secondary by welcoming back a familiar face in cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and adding a new one in safety Mike Mitchell.

Munnerlyn spent his first four NFL seasons in Carolina but became an unrestricted free agent on March 12. Mitchell, an unrestricted free agent, spent his first four NFL seasons with the Oakland Raiders.

"We are pleased with the addition of Mike Mitchell and the return of Captain Munnerlyn," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Mitchell should provide competition in the secondary, and we know Captain is a tough, hard-nosed competitor capable of making big plays."

Munnerlyn enjoyed a career year in 2012 despite beginning the season as a reserve while getting extensive playing time at nickel back. He returned two interceptions for touchdowns – something only accomplished twice before in franchise history – and recorded a career-high 66 tackles.

"I'm happy. I got a chance to stay with this great organization, this great coaching staff," Munnerlyn said. "I didn't want to go somewhere and have to start over. Sometimes you have to, but I feel like I have a great situation here. Hopefully we can make a playoff run."

Munnerlyn has started 25 games at cornerback over the past two seasons. When Chris Gamble suffered a season-ending injury in the fourth game last year, Munnerlyn started 11 of the final 12 games. He started the first 14 games in 2011 before a hamstring injury ended his season.

A seventh-round draft pick from South Carolina in 2009, Munnerlyn has played in all but three games during his four-year career. He played in 15 games as a rookie and 16 games with five starts in 2010, recording three interceptions with one returned for a touchdown.

His three interception returns for touchdowns rank second in team history behind Mike Minter's four.

While Munnerlyn has taken advantage of his opportunities, Mitchell joins the Panthers seeking more opportunities.

The speedy, hard-hitting safety drafted by the Raiders in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft from Ohio played in 61 games with nine starts for Oakland and recorded 145 tackles, two interceptions, 11 passes defensed and 3.5 sacks.

The Panthers' roster is now set up for some serious competition in the secondary, particularly at corner. The team previously signed unrestricted free agent cornerbacks Drayton Florence and D.J. Moore, who will join Munnerlyn, Josh Thomas, Josh Norman and James Dockery. All six started games last season. The roster also includes cornerback Nick Hickson, who spent five games on Carolina's practice squad last year.

"I'm looking forward to all the competition," Munnerlyn said. "I asked Coach and the staff what they see me as, and they see me as a starting corner but also a guy that can slide in and play the nickel.

"(This team) thinks I'm one of the best nickel corners in the league, and Coach Rivera says I have what a nickel needs. I kind of fell in love with the nickel position and hopefully I can play outside and inside."

At safety, Mitchell is expected to compete for playing time with Haruki Nakamura and D.J. Campbell alongside Charles Godfrey, who switched from strong safety to free safety late last season. Other safeties on the roster include special teams standout Colin Jones as well as Anderson Russell, a late addition to the roster in 2012 who got some snaps on special teams.

Staff writer Max Henson contributed to this report.

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