With 2 versatile rookies, here's how Panthers secondary is expected to shake out

With 2 versatile rookies, here's how Panthers secondary is expected to shake out
(Jackson and Gaulden)

CHARLOTTE, NC (Jourdan Rodrigue/Charlotte Observer) - It would be understandable if the infamous Ted Ginn Jr. "dagger" play in last season's wild-card game keeps head coach Ron Rivera awake at night.

A former Panther and "the one who got away," Ginn got a clean release at the line of scrimmage and was able to cruise into the seam and shake James Bradberry on the tackle attempt during the catch. The 80-yard touchdown swung momentum in New Orleans' favor. The Panthers never quite got it back together after that.

It was a jolting dose of reality that Rivera does not want to experience again — not with Ginn Jr. or with new Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley, both of whom the Panthers will see at least twice a year. And not with anyone else, either.

Enter Donte Jackson.

Carolina selected Jackson, a lightning-fast, cocksure cornerback, in the second round of the NFL draft. They're hoping he's the antidote to the deep threat, especially against small speedsters in the slot.

Jackson is more than that, though.

Despite Jackson's 5-foot-11, 180-pound frame, Carolina expects him to prove that he can start at outside cornerback opposite Bradberry (the longer and quieter of the two).

Jackson proved up to the task in college at LSU, roaming all over the defensive backfield and looking at times like a mosquito that receivers couldn't swat away (if that mosquito could also knock a guy on his keister).

First-year defensive coordinator Eric Washington wants to play more man-coverage this season than the two coordinators before him, which will fit both Bradberry and Jackson's abilities.

And when Jackson switches to nickel, the Panthers expect consistent, high-IQ corner Ross Cockrell to play outside.

Jackson will also be used in blitz packages because of his speed and tenacity.

And in the third round, Carolina selected versatile Tennessee defensive back Rashaan Gaulden, who comes in with something to prove.

Gaulden tested poorly at the NFL scouting combine, but his film shows that he plays smart and is very physical. The Panthers want to see him compete with Da'Norris Searcy for the starting safety spot opposite Mike Adams. The job isn't Gaulden's to take quite yet.

Gaulden, 6-foot-1 and 197 pounds, also plays nickel.

In fact, the two newest Panthers could create their own defensive back Venn diagram, with the nickel as the overlapping center.

The deciding variable is the type of player who lines up in the slot on offense.

Sometimes a big pass-catching tight end will be there, and that would often require Gaulden to play nickel. He'll compete with safety Colin Jones for that spot, as Jones has experience in what Carolina has nicknamed its "frog" package.

The Panthers also utilize linebacker Shaq Thompson in the big nickel, or "buffalo" package, but Thompson will begin the season at linebacker with starter Thomas Davis serving a four-game suspension.

There is an opportunity, and it's up to Gaulden to take advantage of it.

Other times, Ginn Jr., Ridley or a similar player or pass-catching running back will line up in the slot. That will be Jackson's responsibility should he beat out veteran nickel Captain Munnerlyn or backups Corn Elder and Cole Luke for the job.

Either way, the two additions might help Rivera sleep better.