Carolina Panthers WR coach Ricky Proehl is faced with one of the more daunting tasks on the team in his first season as a coach. It is his responsibility to take what is decisively (outside of Steve Smith) a below average corps of wide receivers, and field a group of 6 or 7 potential playmakers for Cam Newton. While we can reasonably assume that Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Domenik Hixon, and Ted Ginn Jr. are locks, the competition is fairly open for those last 2 or 3 spots. Camp and Preseason activities will be more important than ever for aspiring wide receivers, and it will be very important to keep yourself at the front of the coaches minds.
Armanti Edwards knows this better than anyone. In what has been a career of supposed "make or break" years, the 4th year QB turned WR out of Appalachian State is used to criticism, but continues to work toward his goal of making it in the NFL. Having shown improvement in each of his first three seasons, he now has a new WR coach to impress, and according to Tom Sorensen, he has done so.
"He’s just improved so much"
"He knows how to run routes and get out of his cut"
"But more importantly he knows how to read a defense and where the holes are, what we’re trying to accomplish offensively, what’s the concept of the route. He’s always been able to catch the ball and he’s a great athlete. And now he’s figuring out how to play the position, and you see it. He’s had a great camp."
That part about staying at the front of your coaches mind? Armanti seems to get it. Yes, this is the time of year where coaches will wax poetic about just about everyone, but every impression counts. Armanti made the catch of the day at the end of camp yesterday while running with 1st team WRs Smith and LaFell. He drew one on one coverage against Josh Norman on a Go route, Cam Newton spotted him and launched a deep jump ball. Armanti, although smaller than Norman, was able to elevate above him, snatch the ball out of the air, and hit the ground while maintaining possession. In previous years, one of AE's shortcomings has been in situations where he has to fight for a catch on a jump ball. Being able to catch against arguably the teams most physical corner in Norman is a big step in the right direction. Proehl adds a little more insight on his improvement:
"I think the biggest difference is he’s getting opportunities. He’s learned from his mistakes because he’s getting the opportunity to make them."
Opportunity is key, especially when most of the fanbase has written you off as a roster casualty. But somehow, AE continues to hang on. The team keeps providing competition at the WR position, and at least so far, he continues to prevail. When you consider that he was the teams best punt returner last season, if he can prove his merit as a true WR, he may yet again make the team. He has the work ethic that this coaching staff has shown they value, he has versatility, and now, apparently, he also is showing the skill and talent necessary to succeed.
It is going to be an interesting preseason indeed.