Chris Hogan lined up parallel with Kyle Allen, waiting for his cue.
At Allen’s signal, Hogan took off for 20 yards before cutting toward the middle of the field. The ball landed perfectly in his hands, and the receiver never missed a step or hesitated. That’s who Hogan is — a versatile veteran.
Although this is his first season with the Carolina Panthers, Hogan’s NFL career already spans more than seven years and three teams. Oh, and he has two Super Bowl rings.
“I’ve played until February,” Hogan said. “I’ve seen some different things, and we have a really good group of receivers.”
Hogan never intended to play professional football. He originally attended Penn State on a lacrosse scholarship, and was there for three years until sustaining a high-ankle sprain in 2008. With a year of eligibility remaining after wrapping up his undergrad, Hogan enrolled at Monmouth University and joined the football team, splitting his time between wide receiver and cornerback. He caught 12 passes for 147 yards, and recorded three touchdowns during the single season, eventually reaching the NFL in 2011 as an undrafted free agent.
Over the course of the next year, Hogan bounced from the San Francisco 49ers to the New York Giants to the Miami Dolphins before landing with the Buffalo Bills for four seasons. While he gained traction with the Bills, the most noteworthy stint in his career was alongside Tom Brady with the New England Patriots.
During his time there, Hogan had 107 receptions, 1,651 yards and 12 touchdowns in three seasons.. Each year he was on the roster, the Patriots went to the Super Bowl.
What made him stand out in New England — and what should give the Panthers hope — was his average yards of separation. He led all NFL wide receivers with an average of 4.1 yards of separation in 2018. The closest players to him were Chester Rogers and Adam Humphries, tied for second at 3.6 yards.
This places Hogan in a unique position during training camp. Panthers receivers have notoriously lacked the ability to get open in recent years, highlighted by Kelvin Benjamin taking last place in the yards-of-separation ranking. Paired with his veteran leadership, time with one of the game’s greatest quarterbacks of all time and his ability to find space on the field, Hogan is a hard player to overlook. He’s the kind of guy you want in the locker room, coach Ron Rivera said.
“I’m out here, and I really take pride in what I’m doing and knowing the playbook and different routes and stuff,” Hogan said. “I always encourage guys to ask questions and ask me questions if I can help them. I was in that position before where I was a young guy trying to figure it out, so to speak. There’s a lot of veteran guys that have been in the league that helped me along the way.
“It’s not all just about here on the field, but take care of your body and just how to deal with the daily grind of camp and going into this season. I really just try to be a leader in any way I can.”
One of the most frequent questions Hogan is asked signing with the Panthers in April is how do Brady and Cam Newton compare. It’s simple — they don’t.
“They’re two different types of players, and I think it’s tough to compare a quarterback position,” Hogan said. “When it comes down to put on pads and playing football, Cam wants to win football games, and that’s pretty apparent, coming out here and working with him.”
Nothing about Newton has surprised Hogan, who had been playing against him for years; his playing style was almost familiar at that point.
“I know he’s a pretty good competitor, and desires to have fun and competing,” Hogan said. “That’s what I saw being on the opposite side of things. So as a football player, I was excited just to come here and play with him and just be a part of that. Being around him, it’s just been fun.
“He loves this game, and he wants to come out here and compete. That’s what you want.”
The relationship between a receiver and quarterback is founded on communication, Hogan said, and knowing that they’re seeing the same thing on the field. To do that, Hogan said that he’s been a “little bug” in Newton’s ear.
“His attention to detail is really, really good,” Hogan said. “That just makes me want to just be on top of my stuff, so that when I do want to come to him, I know what I’m talking about, and we can have a conversation about what we’re seeing on the field.”