The news of Steve Smith’s broken arm, as bizarre as the circumstances were, has already started a cascade of dominoes falling as we approach training camp in scorching Spartanburg, SC. With every injury in football, more so for those that happen to a team’s franchise player, beat writers and fans alike raise the question of who the replacement will be.
Admittedly, wide receiver is a position at which the Carolina Panthers are not blessed with a great deal of experience. After the departure of the great Muhsin Muhammad, the young receivers on the team knew they had to raise their game in order to secure the #2 spot.
Smith’s injury opens the door for these young men to impress the coaches at training camp and go a long way to securing their spot as a reliable target on a team devoid of a true playmaker behind Steve Smith in the passing game.
The venue: Spartanburg, SC., where the heat is so intense it is almost tangible to the dry-mouthed players who have to suffer it.
The prize: The chance to show your skills and reliability to earn the much-coveted Panthers’ #2 wide receiver job.
Let’s meet the contenders for the crown...
Dwayne Jarrett a.k.a. “Mr. Next Year I’ll Be Better”
Standing 6’4’’ and 219 lbs, this New Jersey native attended the University of Southern California where he thrived under the tutelage of Pete Carroll. Now entering his fourth season, Jarrett has been harshly criticised by fans and sports writers alike for his lack of progress.
Jarrett is stepping into what I like to call “last chance saloon”, and he better have his weapon drawn when training camp begins, or he could be leaving with his tail between his legs.
Brandon LaFell a.k.a. “The New Kid On The Block”
Like Jarrett, Brandon LaFell is an impressive physical specimen who many have compared to Muhsin Muhammad in terms of his precise route running and sure hands. LaFell is also a terrific blocker, a prerequisite for being a Panthers wideout.
The Houston native knows how to set up defensive backs and is smooth in and out of his breaks, but the transition from college to pro wide receiver is perhaps the most difficult transition of any position, and LaFell has quite a task on his hands.
However, if he can approach camp with the mindset that he has nothing to lose and just go out and perform, we could be seeing LaFell strut his stuff on opening day against the Giants.
David Gettis a.k.a “The Baby Face”
Gettis, a sixth round draft pick out of Baylor, is unknown in his battle to be the #2 receiver. A raw prospect with a high ceiling and a low floor, Gettis is the horse to back in this race if you are feeling lucky.
The former Baylor standout is likely to make a few eye-catching plays in training camp, but his primary focus should be on making improvements in his overall game and not be shooting as high as the #2 job.
Armanti Edwards a.k.a “The Wildcard”
The Panthers traded a future second round pick to acquire Edwards’ services, a move that may end up paying dividends when it is all said and done. In this battle royal of wide receivers, Edwards is the outsider, but perhaps as a weapon he has the most potential of any of the contenders.
If the Panthers use him correctly – and we’ll see glimpses of how exactly they will use him in Spartanburg – we could be looking at Devin Hester 2.0. Edwards could be that kind of talent for the Panthers offense.
These contenders know what they have to do, and hard work, perseverance and practice will have to be their allies during this battle.
They’ll get it on in Spartanburg from July 29th .