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Panthers bring back Florence to help out secondary

AP - Sports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Drayton Florence could go from playing football with his son in the backyard to NFL starter this week.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Florence, who re-signed with Carolina on Thursday, could be pressed into a starting role this Sunday when the Panthers host Eli Manning and the New York Giants due to injuries at the cornerback position.

Florence, a 10-year NFL veteran who has played in 143 career games and started 99, attended training camp with the Panthers and worked primarily with the starters during the preseason before being released in final roster cuts.

Florence said he spent the past two weeks at his home in Jacksonville, Fla., playing football with kids, taking them to swim lessons and getting on his wife's nerves.

''You have to be ready for everything,'' Florence said. ''It was getting a little frustrating sitting on the couch, so I'm glad they thought enough of me to bring me back.''

Rivera said injuries to cornerbacks Josh Thomas (concussion) and Josh Norman (thigh bruise) prompted the Panthers to re-sign Florence. Although both Thomas and Norman returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday, there is still plenty of concern over their status for Sunday.

Two other Carolina cornerbacks - DJ Moore (knee) and James Dockery (hand) - did not practice Thursday.

''The concern is not only if everyone is going to be cleared, but if they're going to be 100 percent,'' Rivera said. ''As we look at it, a concussion is scary thing and a cornerback with a deep thigh bruise is a scary thing. We had to take a lot of things into account and we think (signing Florence) was a prudent move. ... We were down to two healthy cornerbacks.''

Rivera said he has plenty of confidence in Florence, saying he fit right in at practice Thursday.

''It was like he never left,'' Rivera said. ''He did a nice job understanding the concepts that we're using for this game. It's interesting, but veteran guys like that do make the transition easily.''

Florence has played for San Diego, Jacksonville, Buffalo and Detroit and has 444 career tackles and 18 interceptions.

Florence said he's happy to be back in Carolina, despite the way things abruptly and unexpectedly ended three weeks ago. He called it a humbling experience.

''Anytime you get fired from your job it's tough, but it would be a lot tougher to come back and be a disappointment,'' Florence said.

Rivera also seems to have settled on a starting strong safety.

He ruled out Quintin Mikell for the game Sunday and said he expects undrafted rookie Robert Lester from Alabama will get his first NFL start against Manning. Lester was promoted from the team's practice squad to the 53-man roster earlier this week.

''We think Robert Lester is a young man that's got an opportunity,'' Rivera said. ''He's the next best available for us.''

Mike Mitchell will start at free safety for Carolina and Captain Munnerlyn will be the other starting cornerback.

NOTES: To make room on the roster for Florence, the Panthers waived backup center Brian Folkerts. ... Rivera said it is likely rookie RB Kenjon Barner (foot) will be held out until after the bye week.

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AP NFL website www.pro32.ap.org

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