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Haruki Nakamura has proven to be a liability in coverage through the first quarter of the season, but the Panthers are sticking with him as their starting free safety heading into Week Five.
The team’s commitment to Nakamura has left some team observers scratching their heads. Nakamura was schooled by Falcons WR Roddy White on a pair of touchdown catches in Week Four. He also was out of position on White’s key 59-yard catch, which set up the game-winning field goal, and his struggles this season were not limited to those three plays.
The fact that the team still believes Nakamura is their best option at the position magnifies the lack of confidence the coaching staff has in the former starter at the position, Sherrod Martin, who has been contributing on special teams. Martin was demoted for his own failures before the season. He started 36 games in the past three seasons and Nakamura, a core special-teams player for the Ravens for the past four seasons, had never started a game prior to Week One this season. While Nakamura lacks experience after having served as a backup to Ed Reed, we hear the team thinks Nakamura’s leadership skills and ability to make calls for the rest of the secondary are far superior to Martin’s.
Pressure to make a change at the position eventually could force the coaching staff’s hand, though, if Nakamura’s weakness continues to be exploited. For now, it appears the Panthers’ only options at free safety are players that fit best as special-teamers.