Despite Missteps Against Falcons, Haruki Nakamura To Remain Panthers’ Starter At Safety
By Ted Fleming
He made a couple of outstanding plays during the game, but they were completely overshadowed by a massive miss in the closing seconds of the Panthers’ eventual loss to the Falcons last Sunday.
Haruki Nakamura has not had the best of seasons so far, but head coach Ron Rivera said after Wednesday’s practice that he is staying with his fifth-year safety out of Cincinnati.
“It’s really one game, one play, one situation, one set of circumstances,” Rivera said about the Matt Ryan to Roddy White 59-yard hookup with under a minute left that led to the game winning field goal. “As I said the other day, there were 164 plays and there were not 163 perfect ones. Let’s look at it, [Nakamura] had an interception in the red zone and a ball knocked away in the end zone so to do a complete turnaround (on him), I don’t know if it’s warranted.”
The 26-year old Nakamura has a temporary vote of confidence and maybe that has something to do with the bye week after the Panthers host the Seahawks this weekend. Atlanta has an explosive offense with many different looks that confuse defenses, so maybe that is why the decision was made to keep the status quo, at least for one more game.
Rivera admitted that Nakamura had a “couple” of other bad plays, but deflected any question that he was the single reason for the loss, saying there were a lot more things going on in the game and there was more than one way to look at what happened. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott spoke with Nakamura and told him that the staff expects more from him.
“The thing to understand is the position he plays, obviously one of the last lines (of defense) but also a leadership position so there is a lot more to expect out of that position,” Rivera said. “You expect it out of the linebacking position, you expect it out of your rush defensive end, your cover corners so there are a lot of things that play into decisions as far as positions are concerned and what you want to do with them based on performance.”
Expectations and performance are the two key words that will decide if Nakamura remains a starter when the Cowboys come to town on October 21 following a week off.
LINE DANCING: Rivera gave big props to the defensive line saying it might be their best game since he took over the team two years ago.“I thought the energy they brought to the defense was tremendous. We opened with a blitz and (linebacker) Jon Beason comes through with a big hit on the quarterback then we get a batted pass and a sack, you couldn’t ask for a better start and it all started up front. I told the guys, ‘You put it out there now, you’ve shown what you’re capable of and there’s no reason you can’t do it every week.’ So we’ll see how they respond.”
OFFENSIVELY SPEAKING: Despite the loss, Rivera was pleased with some aspects of the offense. “The play of our running backs was pretty dog-gone good,” Rivera said. “The play of our tight ends was pretty good, some of our offensive lineman played outstanding. There are so many elements to what’s going on we just have to put it all together so we can play a complete football game.”
APPLE OF THEIR EYE: A number of players missed Wednesday’s practice, but Rivera was pleased to see defensive end Antwan Applewhite back on the field and not limited by the knee injury he has been nursing. DE Frank Alexander (back), LB Jon Beason (knee), CB Chris Gamble (shoulder), C Geoff Hangartner (knee), S Colin Jones (shoulder) were all held out while G Mike Pollak (shoulder) was limited in participation.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.