Brandon LaFell got the message in two words.
The Panthers were in the first week of their first training camp under new coach Ron Rivera in August 2011, bull-rushing their way through the installation of a complex new offense while matching names and faces, numbers and voices in a compressed camp where seemingly everything was new.
LaFell had arrived expecting to battle David Gettis for the second wide receiver spot opposite Steve Smith, building off a solid rookie season in which he caught 38 passes in a woeful offense.
Before the first week of camp had concluded, the Panthers had signed Naanee, a veteran receiver familiar to Rivera and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski through their time together with the San Diego Chargers.
"A lot of people say you brought Legedu Naanee in to light a fire," Rivera said. No, I didn't. I brought him in to play because we weren't getting what we needed.
LaFell took it like a blindside hit.
"You could say a light bulb clicked (on)...when they brought Legedu Naanee in," LaFell said. "I was like, man, I thought I was going to compete with Gettis for the spot. Now I've got to compete with another guy. By them bringing another guy in, we were obviously not doing our job right so I needed to get on my Ps and Qs and make things happen.
"I took it as business. If I was the owner of a business, if I was the coach of a team and a man wasn't getting the job done, I'd have to go find somebody to get the job done. (Rivera) felt like after a couple of days in camp, me and Gettis didn't show him enough so he went and got a guy he was familiar with.
At the end of the day, it helped everybody."
Thirteen months later, Naanee is gone and LaFell has made the No. 2 receiving spot his own. LaFell's emergence began in the latter part of last season, his comfort level in the new system allowing him to play with increasing freedom as the mechanics of the offense began to become second nature.
LaFell's development has continued into this year.
Last Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, LaFell had a team-high six receptions for 90 yards. He also had a 25-yard run.
Two weeks into the regular season, LaFell is averaging 17.2 yards per catch and ranks among the top 15 in the league in receiving yards (155).
When the New York Giants face the Panthers Thursday night at Bank of America Stadium, LaFell and Smith will be to the Carolina passing game what DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are to the running game.
"(LaFell has) given us every indication that he understands it and he's ready to become that (second) guy," Rivera said. "He's got to continue to push himself, continue to keep that carrot in front of him. With his ability, the arrow is pointing up."
Battle to improve
Chad Butler has known LaFell since the receiver was a sophomore at Lamar High in Houston. Butler was offensive coordinator and LaFell was quarterback before becoming a wide receiver as a senior.
Butler and LaFell have stayed close, and the high school coach has seen a pattern with LaFell. In high school, later in college at LSU and now in the NFL, LaFell needs a year or two to find his comfort zone. Once it's found, LaFell soars.
"High school can be deceiving for some kids because the game comes easily to them," Butler said. "When he got to college, he had his ups and downs. It was just like that Carolina. He had to battle to improve himself. Now he has the confidence and the ceiling is really high for him."
At home in Houston and in Baton Rouge, most of LaFell's friends call him JoJo, which comes from his middle name, Josiah. Panther teammates Thomas Davis and Jon Beason call him by his nickname here but he's Brandon to most of his teammates.
To Butler, LaFell is the same guy he picked up in Houston's rough Fourth Ward neighborhood almost every morning, going out of his way to give the tall, thin kid a ride to school. Every evening, Butler drove LaFell home.
They talked about football and they talked about life.
They rode in the same car in which Butler helped LaFell into the back seat after a five-overtime Lamar victory over Port Arthur Memorial. LaFell had played every snap in the game.
"I just remember getting in the car and waking up the next day,' LaFell said.
LaFell lived with his grandmother in an area filled with dangerous choices. He chose football.
"I've got three older brothers and those guys pretty much stayed on my tail and made sure I didn't go the route they did because all those guys sold drugs. They made sure I didn't go that way," LaFell said.
"My best friend, we're still close to this day, but it was seeing the stuff he did and got in trouble for made me not want to go that route. He was better than me. He had more talent than me. He had more speed. He was my No. 1 receiver when I was quarterback. He just made all the wrong decisions.
"He ended up getting kicked out of junior college twice. All three of my older brothers sold drugs at some point in their lives and went to jail for it. They just made sure I didn't do it.
"It was hard because you grow up with nothing and you see your brother and your friends selling drugs and they're getting money and getting things they want. At the same time, you've got to see the bigger picture."
Another role model
When the Panthers made LaFell their third-round draft choice in 2010, he found Steve Smith.
LaFell remembers standing on the sideline early during his first training camp when Smith approached him.
"He said, "Man, I'm going to need you. We drafted you (third) round for a reason. You're a guy who can play. I need a guy who can take some pressure off me because I'm going to do what I do on my side. You just go over there and help me out a little bit,'" LaFell recalled.
Their first season together, Smith was unhappy. The Panthers' offense collapsed. The team won two games.
Smith raised the question of a trade after the 2010 season. Ultimately, he stayed and has been brilliant with Cam Newton at quarterback. In his 12th season, Smith's passion has not diminished. He remains as fiery and combative on the field as ever. He uses Sunday afternoons to prove age hasn't robbed him of his talents.
LaFell has watched closely. He's asked questions. He's studied film. He's asked more questions.
And Smith has watched LaFell. Few understand better the challenges of being a young receiver in the NFL, particularly one thrown into a radically different offense in his second professional season.
"One of the things when you're a young guy and you get on the job training, it's a little rough," Smith said. "But once you start to connect the dots and figure out why you're doing what you're doing and why you were told to do it this way and (you) come up with your answer and know how you got through it, it helps you.
"It gives you a sense of accomplishment. Hey, I know why I did it. I didn't just fall into it."
The big picture
That's where LaFell is now. Whether it's downfield blocking, a critical component in the Panthers' scheme, running underneath routes to drag defenders away from Smith or launching himself downfield, LaFell not only sees the big picture, he's made him a substantial part of it.
"He's always been confident in his game and rightfully so," Smith said. "He was the No. 1 receiver in college. But every level you move up is a bigger step. There's a (bigger) gap that has to be filled.
"That takes some time. You can't come in here hoping that you'll be okay or hoping you'll do an OK job. You've got to have that confidence that I'm going to leave my mark. When that is, you really don't know."
LaFell's time has arrived.