Panthers creating competition at Safety

Reggie Smith

If Sherrod Martin didn't get it before, he better now. The Panthers signed yet another free agent safety this week that has a chance to push Martin up or out. They added former San Francisco starter Reggie Smith, following the early addition of Baltimore free agent Haruki Nakamura.

If Sherrod Martin didn't get it before, he better now. The Panthers signed yet another free agent safety this week that has a chance to push Martin up or out.

They added former San Francisco starter Reggie Smith, following the early addition of Baltimore free agent Haruki Nakamura.

"Reggie has been on our radar since the beginning of free agency and is a player we think can come in and compete at safety," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said on Smith's signing. "He is another player we've added to increase the competition."

Even though Martin's name was nowhere near that press release, it didn't have to be. It was about him as much as anyone they've signed.

Neither Smith nor Nakamura have the kind of credentials (or paychecks) to make them instant starters here, but both have enough experience and ability to compete for Martin's current job.

The 2009 second-round pick still has as much athletic ability as all but a few on the roster. He's a rangy and physical safety, who has racked up big plays (such as his game-clinching interception at Indianapolis) and big fines for hits his first few years.

But he's also been on the wrong side of deep balls (an end-of-half Hail Mary touchdown against the Saints was the worst), and seems hesitant to bring the wood like he used to, perhaps cognizant of the donations he's made to league charities.

That had him the focus of coaches, management and ownership this offseason, and the message should be considered been sufficiently sent.

In a perfect world, he'd respond to the challenge the same way fellow starter Charles Godfrey did. Like Martin, he was drafted after a college career bouncing between corner and safety, and there was a transition period. But Godfrey made a huge progression over time, and was rewarded with a contract extension last year.

Martin's failed to make that same kind of step (mostly in understanding the defense), which has caused them to make backup plans in case he fails to progress.

The Panthers would love it if the light went on for Martin and he played to his abilities. But as the signings of Smith and Nakamura suggest, they're not going to give him nearly as many chances to let them down this year.

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