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Questions arise after Panthers bench starting CB Gamble

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach John Fox insists he benched cornerback Chris Gamble for performance reasons. Defensive end Everette Brown indicates it came after Gamble lost his cool last week.

Gamble isn't talking.

The surprise demotion of one of Carolina's highest-paid players to nickel back Sunday took a new twist when Brown indicated Wednesday that Gamble was disciplined for missing practice last week. Fox and the team described Gamble's absence on the injury report only as "personal."

Brown said he didn't know if Gamble walked out of practice or never hit the field Nov. 24 as the Panthers (1-10) slog through a terrible season.

"It was one of the things where he made an out-of-mind decision and he came back the next day and apologized. That's been the end of it since," Brown said without elaborating. "He's been out there working every day and getting better and getting ready for (Sunday's game against) the Seahawks."

Gamble declined to speak to reporters Wednesday and didn't talk after last Sunday's loss to the Cleveland Browns, in which he played about 30 snaps as an extra defensive back on passing downs.

Captain Munnerlyn, a 2009 seventh-round draft pick, started in Gamble's place and returned an interception 37 yards for Carolina's first defensive touchdown of the season.

"It was kind of awkward being out there," Munnerlyn said. "I was like, 'Man, Gam, he's coming in on nickel.' But it's football. Sometimes it happens like that."

Gamble -- Carolina's fourth-most tenured player behind kicker John Kasay, wide receiver Steve Smith and left tackle Jordan Gross -- signed a six-year, $53 million contract late in the 2008 season and has long been considered one of the NFL's better cornerbacks. Gamble's 24 interceptions are one shy of Eric Davis' team record.

But Fox said he took out Gamble briefly against the Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 21 after he was beaten on T.J. Houshmandzadeh's 56-yard TD catch. Fox has insisted the decision to bench Gamble one week later against the Browns was strictly performance-related. Gamble has gone 14 games without an interception.

"He was struggling a little bit and we made the change," he said.

Gamble, 27, was limited in practice Wednesday with a sore hamstring. Munnerlyn was slowed by a shoulder injury but said he'd play Sunday.

Fox declined to say who will start.

"I don't announce starting lineups until game day," Fox said.

Munnerlyn said Gamble helped him during Sunday's 24-23 loss in which he made his first career start and had six tackles.

"He didn't have an attitude or nothing," Munnerlyn said. "Every time I made a play or I messed up, he'd come talk to me and help me out, so I really praise him for that."

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Munnerlyn said he was receiving treatment for his injured shoulder the day that Gamble missed practice last week and didn't know the reason for his teammate's absence. Brown indicated Gamble is back in his teammates' good graces.

"He was disciplined for his actions, and that was the end of it," Brown said. "It's not anything where you hold a grudge against the guy or say, 'He's a quitter. He backed out on the team.' He was back at practice the next day working hard."

But it's the first sign of potential unrest as the Panthers have the NFL's worst record and Fox is working in the last year of his contract. The Panthers went 12-4 and won the NFC South just two seasons ago before cutting payroll and embarking on a youth moment that left Gamble one of the oldest remaining players.

"A guy got frustrated and just overreacted. It happens in life," Brown said. "One thing for sure about Gam is I know he'll learn from it. He'll bounce back and he'll continue to play well and produce for us."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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