The Falcons are only starting one rookie this season and that one, Peter Konz at guard, didn't begin the season as the starter. Atlanta's opponent on Sunday hasn't quite had that kind of luck.
The Carolina Panthers are relying on the services of eight first- or second-year players this season to fill extended minutes. In last week's loss to Kansas City, Rookies Amini Silatolu (G), Luke Kuechly (LB), Brad Nortman (P) and Joe Adams (PR) were starters at their positions. Second-year tackle Byron Bell is the team's starting right tackle and they got 36% of the team's snaps or more on offense or defense from second-year tackle Sinome Fua and rookies Josh Norman (CB) and Frank Alexander (DE).
Going forward Panthers head coach Ron Rivera hopes to continue to see the young players play in what is essentially a lost season as they sit at 3-9.
"I hope to see the development of players going forward," Rivera said on Wednesady. "There's a lot of talk about how things are going to be for me and I told the players and coaches 'don't worry about me. Do your job. Do the things that you need to do to show that you deserve this opportunity. That's what I've told the players. For them to get opportunities, I've got to play certain people. The thing everybody's got to understand is we've been playing young players. We really have if you look at it."
Some of these players have been thrust into their roles because of injuries and others, like first-round pick Kuechly, are there because of their talent. No matter the reason, they're in the lineup and the Panthers are doing their best with them. Their inexperience is one of the reasons they've lost so many close games this season.
The unsuccessful season has many discussing Rivera's name as a coach on the hot seat. He said the owner of the club will make that decision after the season is over. Until then, Rivera plans to be back in Carolina next season and he's getting a jump start on next season's evaluations of young players right now.
"We're playing so many young guys that when people ask me about it, I say yes we're going to continue to play young guys and I'd like to see them play a little bit more so I can continue to evaluate them," the coach said. "This is an evaluation process for everybody because of our circumstances. It's not about me."