Said elsewhere that I think one of Rivera's biggest failings as a coach is his talent evaluation and depth chart building.
Here's a little something within that same vein.
Fans love "underdog" players, guys who overcome limitations to become great at their position. They're the "Rudys", the ones nobody thinks can be good enough, yet somehow they manage by hard work or sheer force of will to mold themselves into great players who make their teams better.
Two guys like that are beloved by all Panther fans, namely Steve Smith and the late Sam Mills. Neither came into the league with expectations they'd be world beaters, but both proved better than anyone imagined they could be.
Those stories are always fantastic...
...but the reality is they're also fairly rare.
More often than not, "effort" guys make their way onto practice squads and maybe lower tiers of depth charts, but the reality is that ultimately they're just not good enough to be starters or impact players. You love their heart and their drive - and sometimes you wish your more talented players had even half as much of those qualities - but in most cases, the fairy tale ending you'd absolutely love to see just doesn't happen.
Unfortunately, I think head coach Ron Rivera has a real soft spot for the "Rudy" type players.
And sadly, I think it's clouded his judgment when it comes to some positions on this team.
I love the effort that Byron Bell gives every Sunday, but let's be real. He just isn't an NFL starter. And kudos to Sione Fua for giving it his all, but his all isn't enough. He shouldn't even be on an NFL roster, but thanks to the injury hampering Dwan Edwards right now, here he is.
And then there's Captain Munnerlyn, I absolutely love Captain and would be happy to have him as a nickel back, but he shouldn't be a starting corner. Rivera once called him a "Sam Mills" in the secondary. When I heard that, I winced. That statement, while a great compliment, is sadly some of the best evidence that the theory I'm putting forth here is true.
No doubt there are other names I could add to this (Armond Smith comes to mind) but the bottom line is that Rivera has allowed his coaching decisions to be affected by sentiment for players who try really hard, but just don't have the talent. In a vacuum, it'd probably be an admirable quality to want to reward the guys who try the hardest to make themselves, and the team, better.
But Rivera doesn't coach in a vacuum. He coaches in the NFL, the most competitive football league in existence. And in the NFL, you win or you go home.
Thanks to his sentiment, Rivera will probably be doing the latter come January.