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2013 CAROLINA PANTHERS TRAINING CAMP | Spartanburg, S.C.

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Carolina Panthers’ Armanti Edwards ready to emerge as a receiver

By Joseph Person
jperson@charlotteobserver.com

SPARTANBURG In the first half of Friday’s game against Chicago, Panthers receiver Armanti Edwards ran a nice “dig” route and pulled down Derek Anderson’s pass for a long gain and a first down.

It was one catch in an exhibition. But it served as a microcosm of Edwards’ four-year transformation from award-winning, Michigan-slaying quarterback at Appalachian State to viable NFL receiver.

Edwards said his dig route (a deep in cut) against the Bears looked nothing like it did his first couple of years in the league.

“Instead of keep drifting up the field to where the safety or somebody can undercut or hit you, I can feel myself coming down back toward the ball now,” Edwards said Sunday.

Edwards has felt something else this summer at training camp: relevance.

“I feel like I’m a guy that can be counted on this year, unlike the past three years,” he said. “I felt like I made the roster, but at the same time I wasn’t being accountable.”

Edwards spent his first three seasons as a return specialist who was an afterthought in the receiving rotation. This year, with free-agent acquisition Domenik Hixon sidelined with a hamstring injury, Edwards has been working as the No. 3 receiver behind Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell.

Edwards sat out Sunday’s practice with a hamstring injury that is expected to sideline him for a couple of days.

“I had a rough patch of years playing receiver,” Edwards said. “But as long as I stay faithful and motivated, sooner or later there’s going to be a breakthrough.”

That breakthrough looks like it could come this year.

Turning the corner

After a strong showing by Edwards at organized team activities and minicamp, critics wanted to reserve judgment until training camp.

After a solid first two weeks of camp, they wanted to see Edwards do it in a game. After he caught two passes for 38 yards against the Bears, there will be skeptics who want to see it a regular-season game.

But teammates and coaches believe Edwards has turned a corner.

“Armanti has accepted the challenge with his role increasing, especially with the No. 1 guys. He didn’t even miss a step,” quarterback Cam Newton said. “I call him the silent assassin. He comes in, doesn’t say much and he’s hard-working, whether it’s blocking (or) on the receiving end. He’s always a team player.

“And you just look at his resume: He’s won. He’s a winner, and we need more influences like Armanti.”

The Proehl effect

Edwards credits his development to his time in the weight room and his work with receivers coach Ricky Proehl, the former Panthers wideout who was the team’s assistant receivers coach last year.

Proehl said Edwards’ athleticism and competitiveness were evident in his success at Appalachian. Besides shocking Michigan, Edwards led the Mountaineers to two national titles and twice was offensive MVP in the Football Championship Subdivision.

But Edwards, the Panthers’ third-round pick in 2010, needed a lot of polish in switching from college quarterback to NFL receiver. And he didn’t always get many chances to hone those skills.

“It was frustrating at times because of us not giving him the opportunities to grow as a receiver,” Proehl said. “That’s all I wanted to do when I got the position is just teach him, to where his athleticism could come out.”

Edwards said Proehl has worked more closely with him than his previous position coaches.

“We’re in the NFL,” Edwards said. “Most coaches, they’re working with what they can work with. It’s not like high school where somebody’s sitting there to help you step by step. That’s what Ricky Proehl’s been doing. He’s tried to do the extra coaching after practice or in the film room. He’s been very helpful.”

Proehl has been harping on Edwards to lose his stutter-step and get quicker off the line of scrimmage. Playing fast, Proehl calls it.

Proehl said LaFell has been a role model for Edwards in the weight room, helping Edwards recognize the importance of getting bigger and stronger to keep from getting knocked off his routes.

“I stayed in the weight room,” Edwards said. “Ask any guys that stayed in Charlotte, I didn’t leave. I worked out almost every day.”

Still a work in progress

Edwards still has more to do before he’s a lock in the receiving rotation, or even on the roster. Hixon and Ted Ginn Jr., another free-agent acquisition, are proven veterans with Super Bowl experience.

Edwards’ two catches Friday weren’t far off his career regular-season total of five – all of which came last year.

But with each well-run dig route or nice catch in a practice drill, Edwards gets a little more comfortable. He’s even speaking up with teammates and media members.

“I talk a little more now,” he said. “But I’m still on the quiet side.”

His performance has done the talking for him.

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson

Complete Carolina Panthers coverage from The Charlotte Observer at CharlotteObserver.com/panthers
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