CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Panthers defensive back Charles Godfrey is trying to remain optimistic despite a rough eight months.
He was Carolina's starting free safety last year before a torn Achilles in Week 2 ended his season. Since then, Godfrey has not only battled through a grueling rehabilitation, but also taken a $4.25 million pay cut and been asked to change positions.
The Panthers want Godfrey, who has started 72 games since 2008, to move to the nickel cornerback spot and compete for a job.
Godfrey was once one of Carolina's rising stars, signing a five-year, $27.5 million contract in 2011.
But any job security Godfrey once had went out the door when his Achilles popped while defending a receiver in the back of the end zone in Carolina's 24-23 loss to Buffalo last Sept. 15.
If he's bitter about the pay cut and the move, he isn't showing it.
"I'm not going to sit here and say it's not about the money because I also have people I have to take care of at home," said Godfrey, whose base salary was reduced to $750,000 this season. "I understand (the team's) point as far as me coming off an injury. But at the same time I'm here, and I'm still a team player. I want to put our defense in the best position to win and be the best out here."
Godfrey is expected to receive plenty of competition from rookie Bene' Benwikere from San Jose State.
Benwikere caught coach Ron Rivera's eye with an interception and a batted ball on consecutive plays during OTAs earlier this week. Rivera said Benwikere reminds him of a young Nathan Vasher, a former All-Pro he coached with the Chicago Bears who had 20 interceptions and 49 passes defended during his seven NFL seasons.
"He seems to be a very headsy football player, has got good ball skills and great anticipation and that's what you look for in a corner," Rivera said of Benwikere.
Godfrey isn't quite ready to compete with the rookie.
His Achilles won't quite allow that.
The 28-year-old Godfrey has been working in individual drills, but isn't participating in team drills yet. It probably won't be until training camp that Godfrey is back close to full speed.
"I'm getting there," said Godfrey, who has 11 interceptions and seven forced fumbles during his six seasons with Carolina. "I'm not there yet. It's still kind of early. But I'm getting the work necessary to get me ready."
Rivera said the decision to sign free agent safeties Roman Harper from New Orleans and Thomas DeCoud from Atlanta afforded Carolina the chance to move Godfrey to nickel back — a change he considered making last season.
Godfrey played cornerback at Iowa, although former Panthers coach John Fox moved him to safety when he arrived in Carolina as a third-round draft pick in 2008. He's been there ever since — until now.
"We came in and wanted to play him at the nickel position but we couldn't because we needed him at safety. Now we have the luxury in terms of moving him to cornerback," Rivera said.
Rivera said he's rooting for Godfrey to make it make from the torn Achilles.
Despite finishing second in overall defense in the NFL last season, the Panthers have struggled to get off the field on third downs and part of that has been due to inconsistent play from the nickel backs.
"If it pans out, it could be a very good thing for him. It could be a windfall," Rivera said of Godfrey's position change. "Believe me, we're pulling for him. We really are. He's a good football player, a physical football player who's got some talent and ability and hopefully it pans out because it would be good for us as a team."
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