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2013 CAROLINA PANTHERS

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Ted Ginn Jr. gets another shot to go deep with Carolina Panthers

Ted Ginn Jr. has never been the player he was projected to be when he showed flashes of breakaway speed as a deep receiving threat and kick returner for Ohio State.

He lasted three years with the Miami Dolphins, who drafted him ninth overall in 2007.

The past three seasons in San Francisco he was used almost exclusively as a returner, a role that was reduced each year.

But as someone who once ran a 4.28 second 40-yard dash, Ginn still holds the promise of outracing defenders and making things happen whenever he touches the football.

Now, Ginn has a chance to resurrect his career in Carolina, where there is stability at quarterback and a coaching staff willing to give him opportunities.

“You want to put the ball in the hands of your playmakers, and that’s what we’re focusing on and talking about in terms of offensively,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “What can we do to get enough touches for the guys who can make plays?

“You hear things from the outside about players. But then when you see him for yourself, and you sit there and you go, ‘Wow.’ Watching Ted’s speed, his quickness, his route-running – and he’s catching everything right now. So we’re real excited about that, and his potential as far as a return man”

Ginn could enter training camp as the No. 1 returner on the depth chart and will also compete for the No. 3 wide receiver spot, bringing speed and experience to a Panthers receiving group that could use more of both.

‘Go tackle him’

Ginn, signed by the Panthers as a free agent in March to a one-year deal, is a man who wants to win.

Now 28, he’s driven by having been in both the Super Bowl and college national championship – and played for teams that lost them both.

In Super Bowl XLVII in February, the game ended with the ball in Ginn’s hands.

He was back deep to return a free kick following a Baltimore safety with his 49ers down 34-31 with four seconds remaining. NFL Films later caught Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco telling his teammates on the sideline to tackle Ginn in case he started making his way to the end zone.

“Hey! If he breaks this ... if he busts it for some reason? Tackle him! Go tackle him,” Flacco said.

Flacco later blamed it on nerves, and said he wasn’t serious. An ineligible player tackling Ginn could have resulted in officials awarding the 49ers a touchdown.

“That’s a man who wants to win,” Ginn said of Flacco.

Ginn didn’t break it, instead going 31 yards to midfield before being tackled by an eligible defender and thus ending the Super Bowl.

At Ohio State, Ginn returned the opening kickoff of the 2007 BCS National Championship for a touchdown but was injured during the celebration. He didn’t return to the game, and the Buckeyes fell to Florida 41-14.

“You’re never really over it,” he said. “You always think about it, like you made it to the Big Dance but you lost. That’s just like the national championship, it’s always going to be a marking in your book

Struggles in the NFL

In the years between those games, Ginn has played with eight different starting quarterbacks and seen his role fluctuate from a team’s top receiving target and one of the NFL’s best return men to being seldom used in both capacities.

During his rookie season with the Dolphins, three different quarterbacks started at least four games, and Ginn had just 420 receiving yards.

In 2008 when Chad Pennington started all 16 games, he had his best receiving year of his six-season career, catching 56 passes for 790 yards and two touchdowns.

He averaged 8.7 yards per punt return and 23 yards per kick return in three years with the Dolphins.

His value fell. Once a high first-round pick, Ginn was traded to San Francisco in 2010 for a fifth-round selection.

He never found a spot there, either. Coaches and quarterbacks changed – and the 49ers never placed an emphasis on Ginn in the offensive scheme.

In three years with the 49ers, Ginn caught 33 balls for 384 yards, a fraction of his production with the Dolphins in the same amount of time.

Last year, he caught just two passes for 1 yard.

Ginn never complained publicly about his role in San Francisco. He said before the Super Bowl “you have to sacrifice” when on a championship team.

That wasn’t what his dad thought, though. Ted Ginn Sr., a well-known high school coach in Ohio, reportedly said his son “has to find a home” because the 49ers “don’t use him.”

The Panthers offer an opportunity for that to change, at both receiver and returner.

“Right now I’m just going out through my OTAs (Organized Team Activities) and showing them what I got and hope they can put me in the right spot where I can succeed. That’s all I can ask for,” Ginn said of his opportunity with the Panthers. 

Special kind of speed

Through two weeks of organized team activities, Ginn has shown his coaches an elite speed the Panthers lacked last season.

“He can really take the top off a defense,” wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl said. “You don’t find guys like that. They’re hard to find that have that ability to run by people. This league is so talented. You got linebackers that run 4.5s. You got defensive linemen running 4.6s.

“To find someone with that elite speed is hard, and Ted possesses that kind of speed.”

It’s unknown what Ginn’s 40-yard dash time is now. Times aren’t usually documented after a player’s run at the combine prior to entering the NFL. But his 4.28 time is better than the 4.33 recorded by Mike Wallace, the Miami receiver widely considered to be one of the fastest wideouts in the game.

Ginn is also expected to be heavily featured in the return game. He averages 11 yards per punt return and 23.2 yards per kick return in his career while having returned three punts and three kicks for touchdowns. Rivera said the ball just seems to fall into Ginn’s hands naturally on kick and punt returns.

Ginn’s career return averages are almost identical to those of Joe Adams, who wrapped up his rookie season with Carolina last year. The Panthers picked Adams in the fourth round of the 2012 draft but he lost his starting role after some early-season fumbles. The two will battle for the starting kick and punt return duties along with Kealoha Pilares and sixth-round pick Kenjon Barner this preseason.

Quarterback Cam Newton referred to Ginn as another “bullet in the chamber” for the offense. Ginn will compete this training camp with fellow offseason acquisition Domenik Hixon for the No. 3 wide receiver role, a spot he hasn’t seen in more than three years. They’ll play behind veteran Steve Smith and No. 2 receiver Brandon LaFell.

Proehl doesn’t know why things didn’t work for Ginn in San Francisco, nor does it matter to him.

“In this league you have to be in the right place, and guys have to know what your strengths are and put you in a position to be successful,” Proehl said. “…I’m glad we have him here. I think he can add a dimension for us, and he can make us a better offensive football team.”

Ted Ginn Jr. career stats

YearTeam Rec.Yards Kick Returns /yardsAvg. Punt Returns /yardsAvg.
2007Dolphins3442063 / 1,43322.724 / 2309.6
2008Dolphins56790  32 / 65720.5  7 / 547.7
2009Dolphins3845452 / 1,29624.95 / 285.6
201049ers1216347 / 99221.124 / 32113.4
201149ers1922029 / 80027.638 / 46612.3
201249ers2111 / 25323.032 / 32610.2

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