Having been a part of the Panthers’ first-quarter ambush of the Miami Dolphins in their exhibition victory Friday night at Bank of America Stadium, Steve Smith had plenty of time to study what’s happening behind him on the depth chart at wide receiver.
He is the Panthers’ No. 1 receiver, and Brandon LaFell has clamped down on the second receiver spot.
But two games into the exhibition season, the race to be the third receiver remains among the most competitive battles in the preseason.
“It was open audition (against Miami) and some people did a good job putting their hat in the ring,” Smith said.
“The good thing is these guys are getting opportunities and they seem to be all making their shot at their opportunity. All the guys that caught passes, they did some good things after the catch. It’s a tight race.”
Louis Murphy, acquired from the Oakland Raiders before the start of training camp, was targeted for six passes, caught two for 29 yards and spiced his night by taking an end-around handoff 31 yards early in the second quarter.
Armanti Edwards, in the third year of his transition from college quarterback to pro receiver, had two catches for 24 yards, having been targeted five times.
Seyi Ajirotutu, a holdover from last year, had one reception for 5 yards, but he also had a drop in the open field.
Kealoha Pilares had a 32-yard reception on the only pass thrown to him.
Although David Gettis remains inactive while recovering from a knee injury suffered more than a year ago, the others are busy moving forward.
“It was good to see,” head coach Ron Rivera said.
“I thought Louis Murphy did himself good – did us good. A big run on a reverse and a couple big catches. I thought Armanti made a couple plays, which was nice to see.
“And then Ajirotutu made a couple plays. It would have been nice for him to catch that ball that (hit) off his hip, but unfortunately he didn’t. And I was really pleased also with Kealoha, the things that he did. I thought he really showed some quickness on a couple of the throws that were inside.”
Murphy was brought in after a down season with the Raiders, attributed to injury issues that limited his availability and effectiveness. He caught 75 passes his first two years in the NFL but had only 15 catches last season.
He is a physical receiver with the speed to carry the ball as he showed against the Dolphins. He has had good moments and flat moments through the first month as he deals with his new surroundings.
“It feels good,” Murphy said of his Friday night performance. “Preseason is about working all the kinks out. There are some things I can improve on. It’s good just to be out there and be able to get the flow going so when the regular season hits, I can just keep it going.”
Murphy is living in a Charlotte hotel until he can get settled from the west coast.
“It’s just different,” Murphy said of his transition. “A new place, trying to learn everybody’s name. Moving my stuff from Oakland. That’s been a big part of it on top of learning a new playbook. It’s been a little tough but it’s going.”
Ajirotutu played 14 games for the Panthers last year but caught just one pass in limited minutes. But with the departure of Legedu Naanee, there’s more opportunity for Ajirotutu, who has stood out at times during training camp.
The dropped pass against the Dolphins hung with Ajirotutu after the game.
“I’d love to have it back,” Ajirotutu said. “Being the person I am, I’m going to take it home. But teammates and everyone say let it go, it’s fine. I know it’s not fine. It’s less than my best. But I have to put it aside and know that next game I have to give it my best shot.”
As for Edwards, the coming days will be critical to his future with the team. Given his Appalachian State pedigree and popularity, Edwards’ development – or perceived lack thereof – remains an intriguing storyline.
When the Panthers drafted punt-return specialist Joe Adams, it appeared to be a signal that Edwards’ future with the team will be as a receiver. He made an impact against the Dolphins.
“I think he gets it,” Smith said of Edwards. “It’s just when you have young guys and they don’t play a lot, when you get out on that field things just move so much faster. They do. And it’s tough.
“It’s one of those things where these guys know what to do. But when you’ve got somebody pushing you in the face and grabbing your arm and grabbing your jersey running down the field – either the ref calls it or doesn’t – it’s just not like practice. And sometimes with young guys, they have a hard time transitioning. Some sooner than others. But everybody does it different and everybody takes a little bit more time than others.”
Edwards knows there are questions swirling about his future. It’s not the first time.
“Either they’re talking good or bad about you,” Edwards said. “You can get your hopes up and relax or you can get down and not concentrate. You can’t pay attention to it.
“You have to push (the pressure) away. You can’t get your hopes up. You can’t get down. You have to focus on what you can do right. I tried to come into this camp and focus on myself, get better and prove it on game night.”