Marshall making progress with Panthers
By Mike Cranston
SPARTANBURG, S.C. ó Steve Smith sprinted across the middle Wednesday morning, caught a pass in front of Richard Marshall and spiked the ball in front of him.
Welcome to your first full-time starting job, Richard. Have fun covering one of the NFL’s most dynamic receivers with unmatched intensity and ability to annoy.
“I actually like he when he catches the ball and spikes the ball,” Marshall said with a straight face. “He gets me riled up. He gets me to say, ‘OK, I’ve got to get my mind right.’ I’ve got to really get out there and get him now.”
The Panthers now expect Marshall to do that every week. After three years as a nickel back, Carolina’s second-round pick from 2006 was elevated to the starting job when veteran Ken Lucas released.
The move came less than a year after Lucas had his nose broken by Smith in camp, the culmination of years of one-on-one matchups and bickering in practice.
“If I’m having a slow day and I’m not really into the practice mode, he’ll spike the ball,” Marshall said. “Or he’ll catch the ball and spin it. It gets me going. It’s time to play now. Let’s go.”
The 5-foot-11 former Fresno State star is eager for the challenge after waiting patiently behind Lucas and Chris Gamble, Carolina’s top cornerback who late last season signed a six-year extension worth more than $50 million.
Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Marshall will get his chance to be out there on every down and prove his worth.
“Oh man, his intensity level has picked up,” safety Chris Harris said. “Richard, I think he’s going to be a great starting corner for us. I always felt we had three starting corners on our team last year and the year before. But now he gets his time to shine.”
It comes after the Panthers’ defense faltered late last season, giving up 30 or more points in five of their final seven games. Lucas was criticized late last season as Carolina gave up large chunks of yards through the air.
Using mostly zone coverage, Larry Fitzgerald caught eight passes for 166 yards and a touchdown in Carolina’s 33-13 playoff loss to Arizona.
Lucas, who turned 30 this year, was released two months later in a move that also cleared needed salary-cap space.
“There are changes, some of them very difficult,” coach John Fox said.
“You get close to players. But change is part of the game, and that’s the landscape we operate in. We think Richard’s ready.”
The 25-year-old Marshall started eight games as a rookie and five in 2007 due to injuries. He only played the No. 3 cornerback position last season, finishing with one interception and two sacks.
“Coming in and learning from Luc, learning from Gamble, it was a great opportunity for me,” Marshall said. “I could have came in and felt like I should be starting. But I feel like you can always learn more and always learn from the guys in front of me.”
Now he’s learning from the guys behind him. Marshall said he discovered on film that when they’re playing the Cover-2 defense, rookie Captain Munnerlyn slides his feet better than him. Marshall has been working on perfecting that since.
“And he’s third on the depth chart right now,” Marshall said. “I watch everybody and see what I can pick up from their games to make myself better.”
And maybe Marshall is ready for his new role. Even after a solid morning practice full of his signature acrobatic catches, spikes and ball spins, Smith heaped some unusual praise on a cornerback.
“I think maybe he’s a little more relaxed,” Smith said of Marshall. “But he’s still going hard and doing the best he can.”