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NFL: Munnerlyn helps Panthers to fresh start

By Scott Adamson
Scripps Howard News Service
Earning a spot on an NFL roster is a long shot, even for a college football superstar.
And when you go in the seventh round of the NFL Draft ó 216th overall ó itís probably a good idea to make contingency plans for life after (and without) football.
Captain Munnerlyn had a fine career at South Carolina, playing as a true freshman in 2006 and becoming a solid cornerback for the Gamecocks. He also excelled as a kick returner, and earned All-SEC honors in 2007.
But when the Panthers selected him back in 2009, the team was already well stocked on defense and had a solid secondary.
Earning a roster spot would be difficult; earning playing time a bonus.
Two years later, Munnerlyn, a starting cornerback, is getting both playing time and accolades on a Carolina team that has gotten a fresh start under new coach Ron Rivera.
During last Sundayís 33-20 win against the Washington Redskins, Munnerlyn had three solo tackles and forced a fumble.
For the year, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound hitman has 22 individual tackles, six assists, one sack and five pass deflections.
In Munnerlyn, ěwe have a young cornerback (whoís) been doing a good job for us,î Rivera said. ěA lot of people say heís undersized, but for what heís done for us heís been solid.î
Like many of his teammates, Munnerlyn has been frustrated by the 2-5 Panthersí near misses.
He took a lot of the blame for a loss to the Falcons when he was burned on a pass play. He said even his good plays have been overshadowed by tough losses.
ěPeople keep saying, ëYaíll are playing better,í but weíre still losing,î he said. ěYou get frustrated.
Last week those frustrations were gone, thanks to winning performances on both sides of the ball.
Munnerlyn says against Washington, he and his teammates finally did what they are supposed to do.
ěWe were just calling out their plays,î Munnerlyn said. ěWe did a lot of film study and we knew they were going to do a lot of boot action and we knew they were going to try to get the edge on the run.
ěWe were in the huddle and we were talking over plays and alerting each other when their plays were going to come.î
The Carolina defense has been plagued by injuries this season, but the native of Mobile, Ala., has been a constant.
In fact, Munnerlyn has been a constant ever since he signed with the franchise. In three seasons, he has played in all but one Panthers game.
These days, heís looked upon as a team leader. He credits Rivera for inspiring the defensive unit.
ěCoach Rivera is the best at giving you a pep talk,î he said. ěHeíd have you rise out of your seat and be ready to go. When he talks to me, I feel like I can just run through a brick wall.î
That wonít be necessary as long as Munnerlyn continues to run after receivers and ball carriers.
Entering the 2011 campaign, the corner had 89 tackles and three picks in his NFL career, and is on track to have his best season yet as a pro.
Not bad for a seventh rounder.
ěAll phases are coming together for us,î Munnerlyn said.

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