After the exodus at wide receiver during the offseason, Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the moves the team made and didn’t make at the position were done in part to give young wideouts Tavarres King and Marvin McNutt a shot.
Rivera has been true to his word.
The receiving firm of King & McNutt, who became the subject of snarky Internet comments after the Panthers flipped their entire receiving corps, have been on the field as much as any of the new wideouts the first two weeks of OTA practices.
During two practices open to the media, King and McNutt lined up a lot with the first team.
And the second team.
And the third.
With 11 receivers on the roster this spring – none of whom caught a pass for the Panthers last season – Rivera needs a scientific calculator to split the snaps equitably.
“One thing we’re trying to make sure is everybody’s getting a lot of reps right now. Because when we get to training camp, we want to make sure everybody’s up to speed,” Rivera said last week. “We’ve made an emphasis that we’re rotating a lot of players, as much as possible. Wide receiver’s one of those positions.”
Unlike the Armanti Edwards experiment, King and McNutt played the position in college – for big schools, and at a high level.
McNutt left Iowa as the school’s all-time leader with 2,861 receiving yards and 28 touchdown receptions, and King had 136 catches for 2,602 yards while playing a school-record 56 games at Georgia.
King set another Georgia mark with 205 receiving yards against Michigan State in the Outback Bowl after the 2011 season. As a senior, he led the country with an average of 22.6 yards per catch.
King was Denver’s fifth-round pick last year, but couldn’t find a spot for the receiving-rich Broncos. When Denver exposed him to waivers in October, the Panthers claimed him and kept him on the active roster the rest of the season.
King, 23, said there’s no distinction between first- and second-team snaps in June.
“I’m just looking at it as getting a bunch of reps,” King said. “I mean, that’s what everybody’s doing. Everybody’s playing with every quarterback.”
That includes first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin and The Replacements – Jerricho Cotchery, Tiquan Underwood and Jason Avant – who were signed after the offseason losses of Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, et al.
The veterans arrived with reputations as nice guys who would not feel threatened by their younger colleagues. King can vouch for them.
“It’s neat man,” he said. “It’s awesome to have guys like J-Co, Jason Avant, Tiquan, guys that have been in the heat of the battle, to kind of show you the ropes, show you things that they’ve learned over the years.”
Cotchery, the former N.C. State receiver beginning his 11th season, has given King tips on getting open in the slot, defeating press coverage and working free against Cover 2.
McNutt’s route to Charlotte was much like King’s.
Drafted by Philadelphia in the sixth round in 2012, McNutt split time between the Eagles’ practice squad and their active roster as a rookie. Miami claimed him off waivers last spring, before the Panthers signed him off the Dolphins’ practice squad in October.
McNutt, 24, has played in five games without a catch, although he nearly came down with a touchdown grab at Atlanta in Week 17 last year in his only game with the Panthers.
At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, McNutt looks the part of an NFL receiver. King is a little smaller than McNutt, and maybe a little quicker.
When the reps and the depth chart begin to get pared in August, it could be that King and McNutt again find themselves on the bottom end of the roster.
But it won’t be for a lack of chances.
“Those two guys do need to get a lot of reps because they’re two young guys that are holdovers for us,” Rivera said. “They’re young guys that we envision that have an opportunity to make this team.”
Regardless of the outcome, at least one NFL observer believes Hardy’s time in Charlotte could be over after this season.
“Unless there’s a lot more that meets the eye with the domestic violence incident, he may be on his last legs in Carolina,” said Joel Corry, a former agent who writes about NFL contracts and the salary cap for CBS Sports and the National Football Post.
The Panthers put the franchise tag on Hardy this year for $13.1 million. They can negotiate with Hardy on a long-term deal until July 15, although there has been no indication such talks are ongoing.
“I can’t see them franchising him a second time at $15.7 million next year,” Corry said. “And for what he wants to get paid, which is presumably more than Charles Johnson, are you going to commit that type of money to someone where you have reservations about them as a person?
“I think he may be holding a league-wide audition during the 2014 season.”
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