Players such as veteran Greg Olsen admitted this week that they didn’t remember much about New Orleans Saints receiver Willie Snead’s brief stay on the Panthers’ practice squad in 2014, but Snead stuck out to Carolina quarterback Cam Newton.
First, it was his hair. Snead’s is curly and dyed a blondish color, and Newton, who is known for nicknaming receivers and defensive backs, called him on it immediately.
More specifically, he called him something immediately.
“Honeycomb,” Newton reminisced on Tuesday afternoon.
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“Cam Newton,” laughed Snead on a conference call with reporters a few minute later. “Cam Newton gave me that name.
“I had gold tips back then,” he said. “How did y’all find out about that?!”
Being nicknamed by the star quarterback caught Snead, an undrafted free agent out of Ball State, a little off guard. He was only in North Carolina for a week before being cut by the Panthers, and later spent five weeks on Carolina’s practice squad before the Saints signed him.
“He said, ‘You look like the honeycomb! You look like that honeycomb on the cereal box!’” Snead recalled. “I started cracking up. It kinda stuck. I just took it because it’s Cam Newton. I thought he was a pretty cool dude.”
Snead is more of a Fruity Pebbles guy, he said. He also is becoming “the guy” for Saints veteran quarterback Drew Brees (although Brees has yet to give him a nickname). He had 69 catches for 984 yards in 2015, and in his 2016 season debut against the Raiders in September he was targeted nine times and caught all nine passes from Brees for 172 yards and a touchdown. Since, he’s averaged 8.5 catches and 50 yards per game.
His ability to have success was actually spotted early by Newton – along with the hair, of course.
“We call it a scout team ‘duper,’” said Newton. “There's level of greatness or goodness. You're either a ‘good person,’ ‘super’ or you're ‘duper.’
“Willie Snead was a ‘duper’ on the scout team. Just not enough opportunity for him to make it up (to the 53-man roster) for us. But what he did for us, and you see it now.”
Snead appreciated the opportunity.
“I was just taking everything I could get,” said Snead. “Every day I came in, you know, just put my head down and humbled and just ready to go. You know, I did take practice squad seriously because I was going against Luke Kuechly, Josh Norman, (Thomas) Davis on the other side.”
When he began his time in New Orleans, he put in the same effort.
“I think it’s just all about the opportunities I’ve received from (head coach) Sean Payton and the Saints,” he said. “(Quarterback) Drew (Brees) trusting me in this offense, just giving me more and more opportunities each and every week. Last year was a great steppingstone for me. I was able to learn and be able to experience and NFL game and the speed and how things are done so this year it’s been a little easier for me, easier transition.”
And now, Panthers players certainly remember Snead as they see the young receiver and their NFC South opponent twice a year.
“I’m happy that he’s found a place that really utilized his skill set,” said Olsen. “Any time a guy fights his way through like that and bounces from team to team, gets his opportunity and takes advantage of it, you can’t help but respect that.”
Jourdan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071, @jourdanrodrigue