CHARLOTTE -- For years, the Carolina Panthers have made do with older safeties, a disposable group of guys who knew where to go but struggled to get there.
The problem now is, the position is still getting recognized, but for the opposite reason.
The best thing that could be said about rookie safety Charles Godfrey's training camp was that you didn't notice him. He wasn't making play after play, but wasn't screwing up either, and that stood as progress for a young player thrown in with the starters from day one. Now, his name's getting called, and Godfrey's moved onto the next stage of development.
"It was difficult," Godfrey said of his transition from the preseason to the regular season. "Obviously, in the preseason it's a different speed, and when the regular season comes, it picks up.
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"I have to pick up my game. The first couple of games, it was kind of a shock, because I didn't know what to expect. But now I know better what's going on."
The Panthers had an inkling of what they'd get this year, in both directions, seeing it on one play in the opener. A bad decision on a coverage assignment left San Diego receiver Chris Chambers running free down the sideline, with cornerback Chris Gamble seemingly amazed Godfrey wasn't where he was supposed to be. Chambers took it for a touchdown, but Godfrey ran him down just as he was crossing the goal line.
The closing speed was good. The recognition speed, not so much. He's given up some other big plays, but is starting to make a few as well.
He demonstrated potential when he got to Minnesota quarterback Gus Frerotte on a blitz for a sack.
"That's kind of where they want me at," Godfrey said. "They want me running. They want me putting pressure on the quarterback, going out and covering receivers. That's one of the upsides I have, I can cover and then I can also blitz and use my speed and I'm a great tackler, also."
He showed liabilities when he gave up a deep ball on the Vikings' go-ahead touchdown drive to start the second half. On the play, a 48-yard third-down completion to Bernard Berrian, he appeared to have position but never got his hands up to change the outcome. He was tantalizingly close, giving the impression he's going make such plays later.
Coach John Fox said Godfrey's been getting "better as we go."
"Again, we're just working to get better, him included, as well as all along the defense," Fox said. "The San Diego play has been well documented. The play last week, the guy had quite a bit of time to throw and the guy made a great throw and the guy made a great catch. I don't know he was so much out of position.
"Like all plays we can do something a little bit better. But he's played pretty well."
Godfrey's realistic, knowing there are going to be such spots this year. But given his background as a University of Iowa cornerback, he cited the long-held belief that any defensive back has to have amnesia.
"You have to have a very short memory," Godfrey said. "It's not about being beat it's about coming back the next play and capitalizing. Everybody gets beat, even Deion (Sanders) got beat and he was one of the best that ever played the game. It's about how you bounce back. You have to know that as a DB and you can't get down on yourself.
"I'm not where I need to be anywhere in my game. That's one thing about me, I'm very hard on myself, and I know that I have to keep on improving. I want to be good, I want to be great, so every perspective of my game (needs improvement)."
There's no indication the Panthers are planning a move, but Fox's track record with safeties bears repeating. He's been willing to sacrifice athletic ability for knowledge, and Godfrey's not immune. It wasn't that long ago (2005) when they benched first-rounder Thomas Davis, when it became clear he wasn't prepared for the mental demands. That took one game.
The moral of the story? Godfrey needs to start moving the balance between plays made and plays allowed.
"All I can say is it's a blessing," Godfrey said of his on-the-fly education. "This is what I've asked for, and I'm mature enough to know my role and know what it is I need to do. Yes, I know I'll be beat sometimes and bad things will happen, but also there will be good things that happen, I'll make plays."
There's a general sense among his teammates that he's getting there. Cornerback Ken Lucas was asked if it was different playing in front of a rookie when he's been used to veterans.
"I don't even look at it like that because I have to worry about what I have to do," Lucas replied. "I trust that Charles or Chris (Harris) or whoever's back there on that given play is going to do their job. You've got to trust and you've got to believe that that man is going to be where he's supposed to be at. It happens sometimes, but you can't play every play like, 'Oh, I don't know if he's going to be there.'
"You have to trust that he's going to be there. The thing about defense, it works as a puzzle. You've got to have synergy on defense. If somebody does something wrong you have a gaping hole in the defense."