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Panthers training camp’s biggest question: ‘Didn’t you used to be David Gettis?’

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.

SPARTANBURG A rookie wide receiver reports to Spartanburg in 2010 and he’s good right away. He’s so good you wonder why he was available in the sixth round, when the Carolina Panthers selected him out of Baylor.

The receiver is fast and tall and as a rookie catches an 88-yard touchdown pass from, yes, Brian St. Pierre. And if all the receiver is merely getting by on is speed it’s still a great quality to offer.

In 2011, the receiver tears the ACL in his left knee. In 2012 he injures a hamstring. He hasn’t caught a pass in a game since he was a rookie.

In 2013, the receiver does little early in training camp. When you see him you want to ask, “Didn’t you used to be David Gettis?”

Then he becomes David Gettis. On Friday against Chicago he leads the Panthers by catching three passes for 56 yards. In Carolina’s final practice in Spartanburg on Tuesday he’s perpetually open.

On one play he beats cornerback Josh Thomas off the line and sprints free down the left side. He’s open not by feet but by yards, several of them.

Running back DeAngelo Williams sees him and calls his name. Quarterback Cam Newton does not see him. Newton throws an incomplete pass down the right side.

Asked who played well in practice, coach Ron Rivera names Gettis.

If Gettis is the player he appeared to be in 2010, wide receiver becomes more interesting and more complicated.

The Panthers have as much depth at the position as they do any other. They have 12 on the roster. They’ll keep six and possibly seven.

Obviously they’ll keep Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell. They’ll also keep newcomer Ted Ginn Jr., who is listed at the top of the depth chart as a kick and punt returner.

They’ll keep Armanti Edwards. Rivera said last week that Edwards was his training camp MVP. Rivera praised him again for his work in camp Tuesday. It’s as if Edwards no longer is Armanti Edwards. He is the Legend of Armanti Edwards.

That’s four receivers, and that leaves Gettis, Domenik Hixon, Joe Adams and Kealoha Pilares to compete for the final spots.

Hixon, whom the Panthers signed as a free agent in April, was often injured as a New York Giant and has missed most of camp with an injured hamstring. He was a favorite for the third receiver slot before camp began. General manager Dave Gettleman worked for the Giants before coming to Carolina.

Adams, a fourth-round pick in 2012, was one of the best return men in the country at Arkansas. He returned a punt in Friday’s exhibition 23 yards. His longest return last season was 21 yards. He fumbled early last season and was inactive for six straight games.

Pilares, a fifth-round pick in 2011, has had moments – he returned a kick 101 yards for a touchdown in 2011 and scored last season on a 36-yard screen pass. Also, he is one of the fastest men in Hawaii.

Gettis, like LaFell and Edwards, was drafted by the Panthers in 2010, and as a rookie he was the best of them.

He is 6-foot-3, 220 pounds and runs like a sprinter. He caught eight passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns against San Francisco. No rookie had exceeded 100 yards for the Panthers since Keary Colbert in 2004.

If Gettis is all the way back, if he’s less a guy who runs fast than a receiver with speed, do you cut him?

The Panthers have to reduce their roster to 75 by Aug. 27 and to 53 by Aug. 31.

Before Rivera signs autographs as camp closes, he’s told he’ll have a tough decision to make at wide receiver.

It won’t be a tough decision, he says.

It will be tough decisions, a series of them.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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