CHARLOTTE – Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn has averaged nearly 50 snaps per game during his nine-year career. Sunday against the Saints, he was in for just 11, the fewest he's played while completely healthy.
That type of limited role is not what Munnerlyn expected when he rejoined the Panthers by signing a four-year deal this spring.
"I make good money, don't get me wrong, the money's good, but I came here to play," an admittedly frustrated Munnerlyn said Wednesday.
So why did he spend most of his Sunday stuck to the sideline?
There are two reasons.
First, Munnerlyn hasn't had a great start to his second go-around in the Carolinas. That continued against the Saints when he failed to help the defense get off the field at least twice on third down.
"I gave up a couple plays that I should have made," Munnerlyn admitted. "I know for a fact that I've made those plays with my eyes closed. But I was never in a rhythm."
Which was the argument he made during meetings on Tuesday with head coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.
"I was like, 'Coach, I know you all got me for a reason - to play," Munnerlyn said. "Then, when it's third-and-8 or something, I go on the field, haven't played since 10 minutes in the second quarter and you want me to defend this pass?
"It's tough, man. It's tough. Football is about rhythm."
But even though they're not listed at the same position, Munnerlyn is also now fighting for playing time with Shaq Thompson, who coaches have been trying to get more snaps.
Munnerlyn, who is three inches shorter and 35 pounds lighter than Thompson, is the No. 1 nickel in passing situations. But even though they struggled to stop the Saints' run game, that's what the Panthers tried to do with Thompson and their big nickel package, also known as 'Buffalo.'
"It wasn't anything against Captain or anything like that," Wilks said. "Captain's a good player for us, he's going to do some great things for us this year, but we just wanted to stay with Buffalo."
"A lot of times those situations are dictated by personnel groupings, dictated by what we're trying to do. If they come out with a different personnel grouping, Captain could have played more. But as far as we're concerned, the thing we've got to do is when he gets his opportunity, he's got to be ready to play."
As long as coaches continue to try to look for ways to get Thompson more involved, Munnerlyn probably isn't looking at a situation where he'll play nearly 50 snaps per game. But with linebacker Thomas Davis currently dealing with a rib injury, Thompson may find himself helping out at weakside linebacker in New England, meaning Munnerlyn should get more snaps than he played against the Saints.
"I expressed myself, so I don't mind talking about it. Y'all know I'm an honest guy," Munnerlyn said. "We talked about it, I moved on and now we've got the New England Patriots. Let's see how this Sunday goes."