Battle for wideout spots among developing story lines at training camp.
By ANDREW JONESFS Carolinas
SPARTANBURG, SC -- To say there's plenty of competition in the Carolina
Panthers' training camp at wide receiver would be an understatement.
Holdovers such as Brandon LaFell, Armanti Edwards, David Gettis, Darvin Adams and Kealoha Pilares are vying to make the team in some cases and to raise their performance to possibly complement star veteran Steve Smith in another. Newcomers such as rookie Joe Adams and a few young players with some NFL experience, Louis Murphy and Seyi Ajirotutu, to name two, plan on making the coaching staff's job difficult when finalizing the roster.
LaFell figures to be a lock for a roster spot, so does Murphy, who came over from the Oakland Raiders after injuries impacted last season.
Entering his third year from LSU, LaFell dropped from 38 receptions in 2010 to 36 a year ago, but increased his yards-per-catch by nearly five to 17. Murphy hauled in 90 passes for 1,341 yards in three seasons with the Raiders, though he missed quite a bit of last season with an injury and grabbed just 15.
Murphy, who was at Florida at the same time as Panthers' quarterback Cam Newton, is intent on making an impression and getting back into a groove he found in his first two seasons in Oakland.
"I'm always going to play with a chip on my shoulder," he said. "That's just my mentality and I kind of got away from that last year and doubted myself. This year I know what I've got to do."
Joe Adams was taken in the fourth round last April out of Arkansas as a kick and punt return specialist, but it shouldn't be lost on anyone that he finished his career as the second all-time leading receiver in Arkansas history. He'll run some routes.
Fullback Mike Tolbert, who came over from the San Diego Chargers, will line up everywhere and already has in camp. He's gotten repetitions at tailback, fullback, wide and slot receiver and coach Ron Rivera says the 5-foot-9, 245-pound fireplug with speed can even play some tight end.
The rest of the jobs may well be up for grabs. Gettis was injured last season and had his left knee iced Monday night. The organization loves Pilares, a native Hawaiian, but he still has plenty to prove. Edwards was the primary punt returner the last two seasons, and although he's a favorite of many fans because of his years at Appalachian State, Edwards must earn his spot on the roster, and nothing is a given for him.
Darvin Adams played in two games a year ago for Carolina and Ajirotutu has 14 NFL receptions.
Wake's Tucker Walks Away
Former Wake Forest star Jyles Tucker left camp over the weekend and was formally cut. Tucker, who played four seasons in the NFL, including a period with the San Diego Chargers when Rivera was a coach there, signed as a free agent with the Panthers in the offseason, even though he didn't play last season.
Rivera thought he had a good chance to make the team and help out in a few areas, including defensive end and outside linebacker. The second-year head coach noted the move wasn't because of anything bad. Published reports suggested Tucker just didn't want to play any longer.
Tucker was on the Demon Deacons' 2006 ACC championship team that played in the school's only Orange Bowl appearance.
Cam on Kuechly
So what does last year's rookie sensation think about this season's possible rookie sensation, linebacker Luke Kuechly out of Boston College?
"Luke is a wonderful guy, person," quarterback Cam Newton said. "That's first and second, he's an unbelievable football player. I had an opportunity to meet Luke in Bradenton at IMG and he's a stand-up guy. First off, looking at him you wouldn't think he has a fierce attitude on the field, but looks may be deceiving.
"When he's out there he makes an impact. I'm happy to throw screens into the ground because his recognition already is through the roof, an that's what you want to see."
Defensive end Eric Norwood is once again dealing with the sudden and shocking death of a former teammate at South Carolina after Tennessee Titan O.J. Murdock was found dead Monday morning from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Murdock was found dead in his car in the parking lot of the high school he graduated from in his hometown of Tampa. In 2010, former Gamecocks wide receiver Kenny McKinley, who also played with Norwood in Columbia, also committed suicide.
"It's crazy when you look at it," Norwood told the Charlotte Observer. "It may have been different circumstances for the both of them and what they were going through. But it's just crazy that two guys from the same era, two wide receivers who were pretty good friends. I still haven't really processed it all."