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Strickly Panthers: Seeking something special


CHARLOTTE – Many coaches contend that special teams play is every bit as important as offense and defense, yet no NFL coach is in position to devote a lot of roster space specifically to special teams players.

The Panthers, however, are looking for a spark on special teams that they hope a couple of new additions to the active roster can provide.

Head coach Ron Rivera said Thursday that linebacker Kion Wilson and running back Josh Vaughan – signed off the practice squad Wednesday - will play special teams Sunday at the Detroit Lions.

Wilson and Vaughan both said they thought they'd appear on all four units – the return and coverage units for kickoffs and punts.

"We've obviously seen how special teams can affect us negatively, so hopefully we can turn it around and make it a power aspect of our team," Wilson said. "Right now we are in need of overall improvement. I'm grateful that the coaches are giving me an opportunity to step up and do what I can in that aspect of the game."

Wilson showed promise as a rookie with the San Diego Chargers last season, collecting five special teams tackles and forcing a fumble in three games before tearing ligaments in his right ankle during practice.


"Being a linebacker, you have a recklessness where you don't really care about your body temporarily. I love the contact and love getting out there and sacrificing, leaving it all on the line," Wilson said. "I also enjoy being a part of a team, and this will give me the opportunity to prove to the guys that they can trust me."

Vaughan played some special teams in three games with the Panthers last year while also contributing at running back, and he got extensive experience on special teams at the University of Richmond.

"I just plan to go out there, give it my all and help the team turn this thing around," Vaughan said. "I know we haven't been doing too well, but I know we can turn it around because we have guys that are willing to work at it and coaches that are putting in the time to coach us up to do the right things. We'll get it done."

The Panthers surrendered a punt return for a touchdown that set the tone for last Sunday's 30-3 loss to the Tennessee Titans, the third punt return for a touchdown by an opponent this season. The Titans' other five punt returns, however, netted just 22 total yards to allow Jason Baker's net punting average to actually improve from where it stood to start the day.

"We had a letdown on one play," Rivera said. "We had five other punts that they returned, and we covered those the way you're supposed to. Some things just happened on that first punt that shouldn't have happened.

"Some of the guys we're asking to do the job aren't doing it well enough."

DEFENDING HIS DEFENSE: The Panthers had a tough day on the scoreboard against the Titans, but defensive coordinator Sean McDermott still saw some good things that has him confident heading to Detroit.

"When you say 'tough day,' you've got to make sure you're on point with that," McDermott said. "For the larger point of three quarters, that defense battled. When you look at the film, you see that."

Through three quarters, the Panthers had yielded 250 yards of total offense, on pace to be below the 358.8 yards they were allowing on average entering the game. The score stood at 20-3, but the defense had given up just one touchdown.

In the fourth quarter, however, the Titans racked up 133 yards of total offense, and running back Chris Johnson gained 74 on his 130 yards and scored a touchdown.

"We just got worn down," McDermott said.


REUNITED: Rivera and Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham have a history – a long one at that.

Cunningham was defensive coordinator at the University of California in Rivera's first year as a linebacker in the late 1970s.

"Gunther coached us hard. He was a guy who pushed us, and I enjoyed playing for him," Rivera said. "A number of the coaches I played for at Cal ended up in the NFL at one time or another. It was a good coaching staff.

"He's a hard-nosed guy, and his players reflect his personality."

ROSTER MOVE: As expected, the Panthers filled out their practice squad Thursday by signing safety Jermale Hines, who was active for Carolina's last five games as a special teams player before being waived Tuesday.

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