The Carolina Panthers’ anticipated move to make changes in their receivers room is starting with a familiar face.
Head coach Ron Rivera announced at the NFL Combine on Thursday that the team has brought back Jerricho Cotchery as an assistant coach, specifically to work with the wide receivers.
“He is a guy very familiar with our guys,” said Rivera. “The guy that was the quiet leader in that group.”
More importantly, Cotchery will help the Panthers innovate at the slot receiver position.
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“His experience as a slot receiver, (which is) something that we really want to feature and highlight as we start going forward, is something that we feel can help us even more,” said Rivera.
The move to bring in Cotchery, as well as to hire receivers coach Lance Taylor, was recommended by former receivers coach Ricky Proehl after he stepped down from the position this winter.
Cotchery, a former N.C. State star, spent most of his career with the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers, but was a Carolina Panthers in 2014 and 2015. While with Carolina, he had 1,065 yards and four touchdowns as the Panthers’ threat at slot receiver.
Carolina’s primary receiver with ability in the slot is Ted Ginn Jr., 31, who was quarterback Cam Newton’s second-favorite target last season and is about to become a free agent. The team wants to bring him back, but Ginn Jr., the fastest player on the roster, is also a threat in a burner role out wide and needs a complementary player in the slot.
The team is looking for a player either on the current roster, in free agency or in the draft to be a threat in that inside role. The 2017 draft is full of prolific slot options, and two free agents that may have the ability to step in to make an immediate impact are former New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz (who the Panthers met with last month) and upcoming Miami free agent Kenny Stills.
Philly Brown was expected to fill that slot role for Carolina, but saw his production slip in 2016. Rivera said Brenton Bersin could also fill the role, but he has just 24 catches in the last three years.
“If we bring everybody back, I think the competition is really going to come down to Philly and it would be Bersin. And Damiere Byrd, would obviously be those three,” said Rivera. “Is there a specific order? Well, if you went off how they played last year it would be Philly, Bersin and then Damiere.
“That’s an area I think we have to get better at. ... I tell them the opportunity is there for them to take. Give them every opportunity to be part of what we’re doing.”
Rivera also said Cam Turner will move laterally in his position to work more with quarterbacks – a move also recommended by Proehl.