Carolina Panthers

Lessons of a coffee bean: How Ray-Ray McCloud can provide the Panthers a jolt

Carolina Panthers wide receivers Ray-Ray McCloud (14) and Brandon Zylstra (11) were both claimed this weekend during roster cu
Carolina Panthers wide receivers Ray-Ray McCloud (14) and Brandon Zylstra (11) were both claimed this weekend during roster cu dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Drop an egg in a pot of boiling water, and the inside goes hard. Drop in a carrot, it softens.

But drop a coffee bean, the smallest of the three? The water changes. Viola, something new springs from one disseminating source.

Interpret that analogy however you please — or ignore it, if you think it’s phooey — but new Carolina Panther Ray-Ray McCloud has his own understanding of what it means.

“A coffee bean spreads,” McCloud said Monday, his first day with the team. “So just be a coffee bean — spread your energy and just be the playmaker you are.”

The Panthers claimed McCloud, a 2018 sixth-round pick out of Clemson, off waivers this weekend after the Buffalo Bills released him. The team also claimed receiver Brandon Zylstra and defensive back Natrell Jamerson, and waived receiver Torrey Smith, running back Elijah Holyfield and cornerback Kevon Seymour as the corresponding moves.

General manager Marty Hurney said the team liked McCloud in last year’s draft, and when he became available, signed him for his value in the return game.

“I go back to watching him at Clemson. He’s got some pretty explosive return ability,” Hurney said. “Matter of fact, I was at a game at North Carolina State when he ran one back for a touchdown ... He brings us a different skillset at returner as far as the ability to have some big returns.

“Essentially, he’s going to get a chance right off the bat to be our returner.”

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Carolina Panthers wide receivers Ray-Ray McCloud (14) and Brandon Zylstra (11) were both claimed this weekend during roster cu David T. Foster III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

After waiving seventh-round rookie Terry Godwin on Saturday, the Panthers were left with limited options in the return game. Running back Reggie Bonnafon, who played against McCloud several times in college, earned some looks at kick returner in Thursday’s preseason finale, but there’s a clear void of options at punt returner. McCloud should be part of that competition immediately, with the potential to get on the field for Carolina’s Week 1 matchup against the Los Angeles Rams.

But what does that have to do with a coffee bean?

The analogy comes from Damon West, a former North Texas quarterback in the 1990s whose career ended early due to injuries. West eventually developed a meth addiction as a way to cope with lingering pain, which led him to commit a number of burglaries before being arrested in 2008. West was sentenced to 65 years in prison — he served seven years and three months before earning parole — but he adopted that coffee bean mindset before his incarceration.

Basically, don’t let your outside circumstances — prison, in his case — make you a harder or softer person. Instead, be the reason your outside circumstances change, like what happens when you drop a coffee bean in boiling water.

West is now a motivational speaker, and when Clemson coach Dabo Swinney invited him to speak to the team years ago, his message stuck with McCloud.

“He just started saying it a lot, and it stuck with me,” McCloud said. “I remember writing that down when he came and talked ... He preached to that, and I took it and ran with it.”

McCloud wasn’t brought into this locker room because of any story, but, like coffee bean, he can provide a much-needed jolt for the Panthers.

Coach Ron Rivera said the team saw firsthand during joint training camp practices with Buffalo what McCloud is capable of.

“Not just necessarily what he did during joint practices, but what we saw in his play during the preseason as well,” Rivera said. “Just somebody we felt could help us, and he can come in and give us a little bit of a jolt on special teams.”

McCloud seems to realize that as his Panthers tenure begins. Asked whether he prefers kick or punt return duties, he was clear: “I prefer to ball.”

He only had four returns for 20 yards as a rookie last season, but he’s hoping his return potential earns him a longer-term home in Charlotte, just two hours away from his old stomping grounds at Clemson. But to stick, McCloud knows what’s expected of him.

Be explosive in the return game. Be a hard worker. And in terms of influencing Carolina’s special teams, be a coffee bean.

“That’s the plan ... when I put my head down and work for a little while,” he said. “I’m just being a coffee bean in my work ethic for now.”

Cam Newton still on track to play Week 1

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was a full participant in practice Monday, less than two weeks since suffering a foot sprain against the New England Patriots.

Newton took every rep scheduled for him, Rivera said, and the coach reiterated that he has “no doubt” Newton will play on Sunday in Carolina’s season-opener against the Los Angeles Rams.

“It’s been very steady (progress),” Rivera said. “You guys saw him the first day he came out and did a little bit, and each day we’ve been able to increase it. We did a little something with him yesterday, and then today he just continues to get better and better, so we’re feeling pretty confident ... As long as things continue to progress, we’re going to be in the clear.”

The only notable practice absence was tight end Greg Olsen.

“He was taking care of something,” Rivera said of Olsen. “He’s fine; he’s just taking care of some stuff.”

Rivera did not elaborate when asked if Olsen’s absence was injury-related.

Defensive end/outside linebacker Bruce Irvin worked on the sideline with trainers, rehabbing a tweaked hamstring.

Brendan Marks is a general assignment sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR and more. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked for the Observer since August 2017.
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