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Sorensen: Ted Ginn Jr. has been the star of Panthers' preseason. What does he offer? Speed

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.
PANTHERS_RAVENS_24
Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
If preseason is an indicator, Ted Ginn Jr., above, offers the Carolina Panthers a quality they’ve lacked since Steve Smith returned kicks and punts.

There are basketball players I’d pay to watch shoot jump shots inside an empty gym. I’d pay to watch Ted Ginn Jr. run.

Ginn runs as if running is what he’s supposed to do. He’s 5-foot-11 but runs taller. His stride is smooth, his acceleration immediate, he’s here and then he’s not.

Be sure and write.

Ginn, 28, figured he was fast as a sophomore at Glenville High in Cleveland.

“That’s when I knew I had a gift,” Ginn says after practice Thursday. “And I just tried to enhance it. I took track so importantly that it really became my main sport over football. But it was just that I was much faster than anybody in football and track is what made me excel.”

If preseason is an indicator, Ginn offers the Carolina Panthers a quality they’ve lacked since Steve Smith returned kicks and punts.

Ginn returned only two punts during the preseason, one of them 74 yards for a touchdown against Baltimore.

A free agent whom the Panthers signed during March, Ginn also caught eight preseason passes for a team-high 214 yards and two touchdowns.

When was the last time somebody caught you from behind?

Ginn looks at me as if I have a contagious disease and slowly – so at least he’s slow at something – shakes his head.

“I have never been caught from behind,” he says. “A guy that comes and walks me down? I’ve never had that in my life.”

Ginn ran a 5.1-second 40 as a high school freshman. As a sophomore, his body grew and his time diminished. He ran a 4.4.

“By the time I was a senior I ran a 4.2,” he says. “The basic thing about track is it taught me how to run the right way, how to breathe. You see people break down when they’re running – form, breathing, things like that. There’s a lot of guys who probably have top speed but don’t have great form.”

Ginn ran the 100, 200, 400 and hurdles. As a freshman he was the fastest player at Ohio State.

He has run a 4.22 40. But it’s not about going fast all the time anymore than it is about a pitcher throwing fastballs all the time.

“It’s going to different gears and really not letting anybody know what your body is doing,” says Ginn. “You’re like a car – you get to a certain acceleration and the car is going to kick it to another gear or it’s going to blow up. As I get going (on a return) and see a guy that might have a good angle, I might have to turn it up a little more or I might have to turn it down.”

What’s it feel like when you reach top end and in front of you see nothing but green?

“It pretty much brings a spark to my team, that’s the most important thing,” says Ginn. “There’s no success without the other 10 guys on the field and the guys on the sideline. Need all 53.”

Ginn caught only two passes last season for San Francisco.

“Man, it was great just to come here and get back into the swing of things,” says Ginn. “And that just comes from coaches putting you in good positions to make plays and having a lot of belief in you. That’s all you can really ask. Keep showing you can do it, great opportunities keep coming to you.”

For years, Smith was, or at least was considered, the fastest man on the roster. Smith, 34, knows speed, and he’s a Ginn fan.

“He’s eager to please, he’s eager to contribute, to be at a place where he’s welcomed and wanted,” Smith says. “I’m not exactly sure what happened (in San Francisco), but I think he’s a guy who’s been in the league, who understands an opportunity and is looking to set some roots down for his family. It’s great to have a guy who wants to be a part of something special.”

Is Ginn the fastest guy on the team?

“Yeah, I think so,” Smith says.

Is he faster than you are?

“Yeah,” says Smith. “I’ve never been a clock guy. But even watching him run a 40, he’s faster. But I think there’s another element with athletes no matter what age they are. The competition and that ball in the air – you always have that extra gear. I will say my gear is probably 4.5. His gear is 6 or 7.”

So that settles it.

And yet …

“I bet on myself any day and twice on Sunday,” says running back Armond Smith, whose locker is across from Ginn’s. “I have to race him to find out.”

Says Ginn: “I raced Armond in high school. I got him.”

Close?

“Nah,” Ginn says.

Armond Smith, who has run a 4.3 40, acknowledges Ginn edged him in the hurdles in high school.

“To be honest, he has incredible speed,” says Armond Smith. “When he’s got his mind set on where he wants to get, he gets there very quickly.”

Are there other fastest Panthers contenders?

“I am,” says 6-1, 255-pound tight end/fullback Richie Brockel.

“Colin Jones is very fast,” Armond Smith says about the safety.

Steve Smith?

“You know, he’s getting a little bit older,” says Armond Smith. “He’s what, 34? He’s faster than at least 80 percent of the team.”

Fastest old guy?

“Hands down,” says Armond Smith.

So it’s settled. Ginn and then Armond Smith in the open division; in the senior division, Steve Smith.

And yet …

Sitting at his locker perhaps an acre away is cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and somehow he hears Armond Smith.

“Hey!” Munnerlyn yells. “What about me? Come on! I’ll race you in the 40!”

Sorry, man. You have to get by Brockel first.

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