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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

NFL's "Sorriest Receivers" Comment Should Light Fire Under Cam Newton

When the Charlotte Observer's Jonathan Jones wrote of the Carolina Panthers 'Hey, you're projected the sorriest receivers in the NFL,' quarterback Cam Newton came out swinging.

I think everyone has heard the overall story by now...Cam said he had "no doubt" in his mind that when the games are played, everyone will do their jobs. His retort was not only mild compared with the flagrant insult, but it showed that this really is "his team" now, and that Newton is showing more and more leadership.

Nothing better could have been said about this group right now. Thank you, Mr. Jones.

I fully expect this "sorriest receivers" tidbit become something of a rallying cry for the group as a whole. While it doesn't call out any specific receiver, in aggregate it is a complete insult to each and every one of them, I'm sure.

The truth is we don't have a lot of household names at the position. I'd go so far as to say that Kelvin Benjamin is probably the best-known one at the position and he hasn't even played a down in Carolina colors yet.

That's simply due to the draft coverage of Smitty's rudely getting the boot and the draft hype around the rookie plus the free agent changes. It is well-documented that none of them have caught a pass for Carolina last season, it doesn't mean they won't.

There are the journeymen Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, and unheralded Tiquan Underwood new to the team plus the leftovers from the deep end of the bench or practice squad from last season.

While I won't get into any deep analysis or morality here, Smitty's loss won't be a big production loss on the field and he's not getting younger. That's the cold, hard reality of the NFL. It could have and should have been done better but that's yet another story.

Cotchery had his career-high in TD catches last season, so he's at the peak of his career. Avant is a warm body that can make a play once in a while - LaFell's role last season. I still think Underwood is underestimated in his role in replacing Ted Ginn, Jr. He has very good speed and better hands than Ginn did, so he could well be my "surprise player of the year" as far as new FA acquisitions go. We'll see soon enough, but sometimes a change in scenery unleashes a player's potential. I'm hoping.

Then there's Kelvin "The Yeti" Benjamin from this year's first round. The redshirt sophomore from FSU is quite green, but you can't coach 6'5" 240 lbs at wide receiver either. I'd go so far as to say he's a WR/TE "tweener" there - perhaps a tad too stiff and bulky at the NFL level to be an NFL star WR while he's a little too undersized and physical to be a TE. He did have the slowest 3-cone drill at the WR position at the NFL combine, and that's a drill I like because it measures agility and overall change-of-direction skills. Evidently, they aren't strengths of Benjamin's.

Now is the time to break out the "Biff" impression from Back to the Future.

"Hel-LO.....McFLY.....ANYBODY HOME?!?!?"

Think, McFly, THINK! *author shakes his head to get out of his mode*

Seriously - think. It isn't like David Gettleman was ignorant of this tidbit, himself. He's huge, he can leap, and Cam often misses high when he misses and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is retired.

THAT is what got Benjamin the gig. Playing above the rim. While he could completely maul NFL defensive backs one-on-one after the catch, he's not shown a "physicality" like that so much in college. Perhaps he doesn't have that killer mentality, but Carolina's receivers coach Ricky Proehl can hopefully coax him into using his "size to brutalize."

While rookies rarely make a big impact and Benjamin is unlikely to make a one himself, he can still be used in certain situations to go up and get a first down and also be that "red zone" target that so many teams now have.
He could turn a few field goals into touchdowns, and that is "more huger" than even Benjamin's size is.

Especially with the defense the Panthers have. Ouch.

Now, to try and "roll back the rant" into the subject of this article - the NFL's sorriest receivers.

The reason for my own rant here is simply to point out that, while some of the Panthers don't have that sexy, flashy look to them, being the least experienced as a unit doesn't necessarily make them the league's worst.

Cotchery is the veteran who can help coach up Benjamin and Underwood in some of the finer points of playing the position. Kelvin is the "power forward" type. Forget about Underwood, and he has the potential to really gouge you.
Even tight end Ed Dickson has joined the team for depth behind Greg Olson. Olson, frankly, isn't a guy other teams have to game-plan for but is a steady hand for Cam and a chains-mover himself.

No, the team isn't going to go from dead last in "explosive plays" to first or even near that. For one thing it isn't their style. "Keep Pounding" if you will. Play defense. Ball control.

Newton is the guy other teams have to game-plan for. Entering his fourth NFL campaign, I think his measured response to the insult, he handled this thing pretty well. Behind closed doors? They are ALL going to play with that much more of a chip on their shoulders. They want to go out and prove Mr. Jones wrong.

For that, Mr. Jones, I hope you are a Panthers' fan yourself because you just gave them an edge that they already knew existed. You've defined it now.

Cam will now lead with a bit more urgency on every play. They'll concentrate on their task that much more. Stay an extra hour or two in the film room than they otherwise may have.

And play that much harder.

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

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