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Carolina Panthers’ Armanti Edwards gets high marks

By Tom Sorensen
tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com
Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for 20 years and has been at the paper for 25, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.

This column is about Armanti Edwards.

Some of you just stopped reading.

Edwards was a folk hero when he played quarterback for Appalachian State. Twice he led the Mountaineers to the FCS national championship and twice he received the Walter Payton Award as the FCS’s best player.

Edwards was a competitor and an athlete, and the Carolina Panthers traded their 2011 second-round pick to New England so they could draft him in the third round of 2010.

The pick they traded turned out to be the first of the second round. Many of you blame Edwards for this.

The Patriots invested the pick on Ras-I Dowling, a cornerback out of Virginia. He spent most of his two seasons injured, and when healthy he made little impact.

Edwards, 25, made no impact his first two seasons. Converted to receiver, he didn’t catch a pass. Last season he caught five for 121 yards.

If it was tough to get in a game last season, it ought to be tougher in 2013. The Panthers, who lost Louis Murphy, added returner/receiver Ted Ginn Jr. in March and receiver Domenik Hixon in April.

“Just bringing in more talent,” Edwards says Thursday about Ginn and Hixon. “We’ve signed receivers every year since I’ve been here so this is nothing new. You just have to come in and work hard to improve on the year before. Nothing’s given to you.”

A team typically keeps six receivers. Seven were on the opening-day roster last season. Spots are assured for Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ginn and Hixon. Competing for the remaining two or three are Edwards, David Gettis, Kealoha Pilares and Joe Adams.

Edwards again could be odd man in.

“He’s just improved so much,” says Carolina receivers coach Ricky Proehl.

Proehl, a former Carolina receiver, likes Edwards enough that he stops in a heavy rain, without an umbrella, to talk about him.

“He knows how to run routes and get out of his cut,” says Proehl. “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.”

The rain beating down on his black cap, Proehl adds: “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.”

Most receivers toss the ball back to the huddle after a catch. On Thursday Edwards fires the ball long and low.

“I guess that just comes naturally from playing that position my whole life,” he says. “It’s just my throwing motion.”

How do you stop being a quarterback? Do you send your friends deep?

“The only time I throw the ball is after a catch, like you saw,” Edwards says.

Do you ever dream about playing quarterback?

“I did my first year, I admit it,” he says. “But I had to try to find out how to be a returner and a receiver.”

What was the toughest thing about learning to be a receiver?

“It’s more than one thing for me,” says Edwards. “In particular, though, I’d say getting off the jam, and learning how to work my hands on defenders.”

He says he’s become as comfortable playing receiver for the Panthers as he was playing quarterback for the Mountaineers.

“This is my third year in the system and fourth year playing receiver, so everything is starting to come natural for me,” Edwards says.

Until he regularly contributes to the offense, criticism also will be natural. How does he react?

“I don’t read the papers or look at any of that,” he says.

So you don’t hear it?

“I’m on Twitter but I don’t follow any of that,” Edwards says.

He’s heard some criticism from teammates, albeit with humor.

In the final game of the 2012 season, Edwards returned a punt 69 yards against New Orleans. It was beautiful – until punter Thomas Morstead prevented a touchdown by running Edwards out of bounds.

After the play I wrote on Twitter that Morstead was the fastest punter in NFL history and had run a 4.33 40. To Tweet is to be sarcastic.

A reader angrily responded that Morstead runs a 4.84. One sign you need a new hobby: Your hobby is memorizing the 40 times of punters.

The play was more than five months ago. I ask Edwards, who ran a 4.43 after college and believes he’s faster now, if he thinks about it.

“I still think about it to this day,” he says.

Do teammates talk about it?

“More than once,” he says.

Late in practice, Edwards offers something to talk about. He lines up with the first team and first-team receivers Smith and LaFell. (Hixon is on an exercise bike on the side of the field.)

Edwards runs a go route down the left sideline. Cam Newton sees Edwards one-on-one with cornerback Josh Norman and lofts a deep pass. Edwards leaps high over Norman, plucks the ball from the air and hangs on when he hits the ground.

Some restaurants offer a catch of the day.

On Thursday, Edwards offers one.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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