'Short man's syndrome' helps Captain Munnerlyn play big for Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- You don’t necessarily have to see Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn during offseason workouts to know he’s on the field.

Just listen for his voice.

Whether it’s playfully shouting at quarterback Cam Newton or yelling a mixture of encouragement and constructive criticism to defensive mates, he clearly has an attitude.

Some might call it "short man’s syndrome."

But not Munnerlyn, who is 5-foot-9, 195 pounds. You got that right away Monday, when he began talking about fifth-round draft pick Corn Elder (5-foot-10, 183 pounds), who will work with Munnerlyn as a nickelback.

"I definitely [saw] that coming," Munnerlyn said of the Elder questions, which inevitably turned to size. “He’s a smaller guy, just like me. I didn’t say little. You see, I said smaller."

Munnerlyn doesn’t use the words little or short, even though they are used all the time to describe him.

During Munnerlyn's previous stint in Carolina from 2009-2013, players often debated whether he was the shortest man on the roster. Munnerlyn and former fullback Mike Tolbert (5-foot-9, 250 pounds) got in shouting matches across the locker room on the subject.

It got to the point that the two stood back to back to determine who was shorter. Munnerlyn appeared to be a fraction of an inch taller.

“Must have five pair of socks on," said Tolbert, who is now a member of the Buffalo Bills.

Munnerlyn isn’t included in such debates now -- or at least, he won’t be until the final roster is set. Running back Jalen Simmons, a second-year undrafted back out of South Carolina State, is officially listed as 5-foot-8.

Despite his being the same height as Munnerlyn, one could argue that undrafted rookie Duke Austin is smaller than the returning DB because he’s 24 pounds lighter. There’s also wide receiver Damiere Byrd, who is listed at 5-foot-9, 180 pounds.

In terms of size, Munnerlyn isn’t the "smallest" guy on the team.

In terms of what he can mean to Carolina's defensive unit, it isn’t close. He’s big.

Munnerlyn's four-year deal didn’t get the headlines or coverage that defensive end Julius Peppers's return to Charlotte elicited, but in many ways, the move was just as significant.

Munnerlyn fills the void the Panthers have had at nickelback ever since the DB left for Minnesota via free agency after the 2013 season. He also can move outside and be an every-down corner.

Munnerlyn's value to the Panthers' secondary was on full display Monday, when starting corner James Bradberry suffered a fractured wrist. Bradberry’s injury isn’t serious. He likely will practice while wearing a cast in next week’s minicamp, and he should be good to go by training camp.

But if a more serious injury were to take place during the season, the Panthers would have an experienced and competent corner to turn to in Munnerlyn.

“I don’t want to put myself in a box and say I’m just a nickelback," Munnerlyn said.

The Panthers don’t look at Munnerlyn as just a nickelback, either. As Rivera said, “He’s a veteran guy. He knows how to do things."

While Munnerlyn has blended seamlessly into Carolina's secondary as though he never left, he’s still working on relearning the terminology.

“I’ve been away for three years, and the coaches are always, when I say something, 'It’s not Panther talk,'" Munnerlyn said. "I’ve known this formation to be 'slot trip' or something like that. They call it something else. I’m, 'Uh? What is this? ... I remember now.'

"And when I said it in the meeting room, [the coach said], ‘Oh, that’s not Panther talk. That’s not that formation.’ It’s definitely different. I’ll definitely get it back down."

Munnerlyn, 29, brings a veteran presence to the secondary just as new strong safety Mike Adams, 36, does. The Panthers needed to bring in experienced hands with 2016 second- and third-round draft picks Bradberry and Daryl Worley still learning the ropes as every-down corners.

"He’s an older guy we definitely needed in the room, an older guy that doesn’t mind speaking his mind," Munnerlyn said of Adams. "He’s got big shoulders like me. He can take coaching. That’s the key in this thing."

Having a bit of an attitude also is important. The secondary didn’t have that last season, after Josh Norman left for Washington.

Now the Panthers' secondary appears to have found its mojo in a player who never sold his home in Charlotte when he left for Minnesota and who spent his offseason working out with outside linebacker Thomas Davis and others because he always wanted to return.

“I know these guys will be on my throat," Munnerlyn said. “If I make a mistake, they’re, ‘C’mon, Cap. C’mon, Cap.’ I’m, ‘Oh, Lord, they’re going to be all over me.’

“I definitely know they’re pushing me to be the best nickelback in the league. It’s definitely going to make me a better player on and off the field."

Regardless of size.