Happy Tuesday Panther fans! Today is a good day because all the early mini-camp reports are in, and we have no shortage of ways to read about our rookies and how they looked in their first professional practices. All the local papers, and even the national sports media, are swimming with observation and analysis of our youngest players. After all... a veteran is a veteran. For the most part, we know what we are going to get out of them, but a rookie... well, the journey has just begun.
One of the most talked about rookies in Charlotte is WR Armanti Edwards out of Appalachian State. The all-star QB at the FCS level who is being asked to completely change positions and make a move to WR in the pros. Something that is pretty difficult to do if you haven't played receiver since your high school days. We are surely looking at a lengthy development process while Edwards learns the tricks of being a WR in the pro game, while other rookie WRs Brandon LaFell and David Gettis have a leg up.
... Or are we? More after the jump...
One thing is certain. The WR position is one of the hardest transitions from college to professional in the game. You are lucky to see production from a second year wideout, but most aren't expected to really "break out" until their third season in the league. This is because in college, WRs have become used to simply being faster than the guy across from them, or just physically outmatching them. It is the equivalent of playing keep-away against your little brother. You can just ask for the pass to be delivered high and using your advantage in size or speed you will be able to get it. Players who are drafted to be NFL receivers, even late round picks, are the cream of the crop when it comes to college WRs, and chances are they spent their college career against DBs who may never stand on an NFL field with rare exception.
The above scenario forms bad habits. Players get used to simply getting by on athleticism alone and do not usually develop good techniques in route running, selling their moves, or learning to come back to a ball and pluck it at its highest point. These habits are hard to break, and are something professional WR coaches struggle to purge from a players memory so that they can teach them the skills to succeed against DBs in the NFL, who they can't just beat on athleticism alone.
This is where a player like Armanti has a huge advantage. In fact, I would wager that our WR coach Tyke Tolbert is THRILLED that Armanti is coming in with an clean slate, so that he can teach him EXACTLY how to play WR at the professional level from day one, without having to worry about breaking old bad habits. He also doesn't have to worry that once he teaches him the pro game, that old habits will resurface, and remedial coaching will be necessary.
Just think about it. Tyke Tolbert has just been given a pure athlete who runs a 4.40 in the 40 yard dash, has big and soft hands, a great work ethic, and the humility to accept everything he (Tyke) teaches without hearing "well that isn't how I did it in college." He can mold Armanti into EXACTLY the wide receiver he has always wanted. A dangerous prospect when we are talking about a guy with the potential to be "the next Steve Smith".
Early reports out of camp are VERY encouraging.
From the Gaston Gazette, regarding Armanti as a "Raw prospect":
Rookie Armanti Edwards has never run a route, caught a pass or turned a catch into a game-changing touchdown in a college football game, much less at the NFL level.
And that’s just fine with his new Panthers wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert.
He views the fact that Edwards has never played the position before as a positive rather than a negative.
"He comes here and he has no bad habits," said Tolbert. "The stuff that I’m teaching him, well, it’s his first time learning it so that’s a good thing."
Later in the article, they touch on his hands and natural ability:
On Saturday, during one-on-one drills against cornerbacks, Edwards cut inside on a slant and reached behind his back to snare a pass from Tony Pike with one hand and barely broke his stride as he headed up the field.
"His hands are great," Tolbert said. "If you think about it, most quarterbacks are good athletes and have good hands because they touch the ball on every play. He has really good hands. His route technique is getting better, but he has no bad habits and what I’m teaching him he’s learning for the first time. He’s getting it. He’s definitely getting it."
From the Charlotte Observer:
Have you watched Edwards? He has the gift that Carolina’s Steve Smith has. These guys could be asleep, a nasty tackle diving at their ribs in the dark, and they’d subconsciously roll 2 inches and make him miss.
I’m not comparing Edwards, 22, to Smith, 30. I’m telling you simply that there will come a time when Smith no longer is the team’s lone threat to go deep.
Edwards did not run all his routes perfectly on the first practice of mini-camp Friday morning. He says this.
What he doesn’t say is that he caught every pass thrown his way, including a deep ball he snatched out of the air with an over-the-shoulder catch.
"From a quarterback to a receiver it might not be as hard as people think," Smith says. "The quarterback has the responsibility to know where everybody is on the field….(Edwards) doesn’t have as many tasks as a receiver."
Pat Yasinkas at ESPN.com has this to say:
I came away really impressed by what I saw out of Armanti Edwards, the rookie out of Appalachian State. He played quarterback in college, but the Panthers are going to use him as a receiver and a punt returner. This kid is pretty dynamic and can be an instant factor in the slot. Fox and coordinator Jeff Davidson haven’t used a slot receiver much in recent years. Might be time to change that and there could be other ways designed to get Edwards some touches. In fact, this kid could turn out to be what some people thought Tim Tebow could be. Plus, I think Edwards’ throwing motion might be better than Tebow’s.
As noted in some of the above articles, the knowledge that Armanti does come armed with from college will really help his transition. Being a QB in college gives him a major advantage over his rookie WR brethren in that he can be out there running routes, and at any given time he will know where the QB wants to throw the ball. He has already learned to find holes in zone coverage, and the mechanics involved in throwing hitches, curls, slants, and other timing based routes will come naturally since he has that experience being the one throwing them. Indeed this ability to think like a quarterback while running like a wide receiver is an intangible that not many prospects possess.
So while LaFell and Gettis (in particular) are busy breaking bad habits, unlearning everything that they were doing wrong in college in favor of the correct way in the pros, Armanti will be doing it right everytime because hey... he doesn't know any better. With that advantage he will be able to spend time learning the finer points of being a WR, such as run blocking, route running, and breaking the jam at the LOS, areas where a college WR will have an advantage over a converted one.
That said, I have this image of Tyke Tolbert in an underground lab somewhere, sinisterly rubbing his hands together as he stands over an unconscious Armanti, who is hooked up to all kinds of wires and tubes. The mad scientist at play, creating his perfect receiver prospect, yelling... "IT'S ALIVEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!"
While time will only tell exactly how well this advantage serves Armanti, one thing is for sure... I have not been this excited about a rookie... ever. Yes, of course part of it is because I am an App State fan. But I was not nearly this excited when Dexter Jackson was selected in the 2nd round by Tampa Bay then picked up by the Panthers. Sure, I thought D-Jax was good enough, and was fun to watch, but he has never had the field presence that Armanti does. Which is funny, given the off-field humble, "Yes sir, No sir" attitude of Edwards, that on the field he commands so much attention. He is the best example of "letting his play do the talking" that I have ever seen.
So Go Armanti Go! We are excited that you are finally a Carolina Panther!