Panthers WR LaFell ready for regular starting role
Brandon LaFell is eager to play a bigger role this year in the
Carolina Panthers’ offense.
And he’s going to get that opportunity.
LaFell, now in his third season with the Panthers, comes in as
the team’s No. 2 receiver and is expected to start alongside
five-time Pro Bowler Steve Smith, according to coach Ron
That’s not altogether a new role for LaFell.
He started six games at the end of last season after Legedu
Naanee broke his foot. LaFell played well once he got a grasp of
offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski’s offense and he knows this
season represents a golden opportunity to establish himself as an
NFL starter for years to come.
”I think last year when Legedu broke his foot Brandon stepped
up,” Rivera said. ”But now he has to step up a little more
because he has to take that pressure off of Steve Smith.”
In last year’s season finale against New Orleans, tight end Greg
Olsen left with an injury and Carolina’s offense almost immediately
went in the tank. The Saints were able to key on Smith and shut
down the high-flying Panthers, limiting them to 301 net yards and
”They were able to roll their coverage to Steve,” Rivera said.
”At that point you’d like to see Brandon take over. I think as a
young player he’s still learning how to do things. So this year is
a good opportunity. I think he’s stepped up so far in camp. Now
we’ll see as we get the pads on.”
LaFell knows nothing is given to him.
The Panthers (No. 20 in the AP Pro 32) have several receivers
ready to push him for playing time. Among those are newcomer Louis
Murphy from the Oakland Raiders and David Gettis, who started ahead
of LaFell two years ago before a knee injury sidelined him in
Gettis is still on the physically unable to perform list and
hasn’t practiced at training camp, but Murphy is beginning to make
his presence known.
”When you got a guy like him come in, and he doesn’t even know
the offense yet but is making plays the first day out there, that’s
going to make you step your game up,” LaFell said. ”So I feel
like I have to stay in my playbook and keep making plays and catch
a lot of balls.”
LaFell had 613 yards receiving on 36 receptions and three
touchdowns last year, with most his success coming later in the
season. He struggled early on to pick up Chudzinski’s complicated
offense after a lockout-shortened offseason.
”To be honest, it probably took until Week 8 or Week 9 to grasp
the whole offense and really go out there and be comfortable,”
Once he did, he started looking like a force.
He caught 18 passes for 319 yards over the final seven games,
including a 91-yard touchdown reception against Tampa Bay in Week
16 – the longest in franchise history.
That’s something he’d like to build on.
Along with becoming a better downfield blocker LaFell said he
wants to catch more deep balls.
”I feel like I really need to work on creating more
separation” between the defensive back, LaFell said.
With an increased comfort level on offense, LaFell feels as
though the sky is the limit.
”It’s totally different, this camp is just about fine-tuning
things,” LaFell said. ”It’s not like last year or my first camp
where we had a new coaching staffs and we had to learn the playbook
and it took a lot of time to learn things. This year’s about going
over those mental reps and getting better at it.”
Rivera said LaFell wasn’t alone in taking a while to pick things
”There were several guys that took a while to get
comfortable,” Rivera said. ”DeAngelo Williams was another guy we
were concerned with, and you guys (in the media) were killing me
with early last season. But then he started to come along. This is
not a simple offense. That’s the truth to the matter. It took some
guys longer, but when you bring in a new staff there’s a learning
curve to it.”
NOTES: WR Smith was back at practice Wednesday, but rookie CB
Josh Norman (hamstring) and LB Thomas Davis (knee) were held out
for precautionary reasons. … The Panthers were given 24 hours off
after Tuesday morning’s practice and return to work Wednesday night
at Wofford College.
Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and