When it comes to separating himself from defenders, Carolina Panthers receiver Damiere Byrd can leave them behind with his track-star speed.
But in order to break away from the Panthers’ crowded receiving corps, Byrd, a former South Carolina Gamecock, says he needs to prove there’s more to him than just his quickness.
Signed by the Panthers as an undrafted rookie free agent in May, Byrd, 22, caught only 20 passes for 208 yards and three touchdowns his senior year with the Gamecocks.
But he also competed in track and field at South Carolina and ran a 4.25-second 40-yard dash at his pro day. He says his agility has drawn attention ever since he was in high school, but he doesn’t want his speed to define him.
“The first thing that stands out to everybody is speed, and then they see how tall I am and then it’s like, ‘Well, he may be just a track guy,’” said Byrd, who is 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds. “I definitely want to shake that stigma of just being a track guy and being able to run straight ahead.”
Despite Byrd’s conviction to shed his speedster label, his quickness drew rave reviews from the South Carolina fans cheering after each play he made during Monday’s training camp practice at Wofford.
Byrd chased down a wobbly pass from quarterback Derek Anderson for a big gain during 11-on-11s. He later received a handoff and blew past his defensive teammates as he sprinted down the sideline.
“Damiere is one of those young guys that’s catching everybody’s attention,” said Panthers coach Ron Rivera. “He’s got the vertical speed, and he’s got the quickness. The slot receiver plays a little bit more prominent role for us, and I think because of what Corey Brown and Ted Ginn can do for us, here’s another young man that’s right in that mold.
“He’s very quick, very fast, has good hands, has made some plays and has taken advantage of his opportunities. He’s got to continue to show us consistency and continue to grow.”
Through his first four practices, Byrd said he’s been focused on learning from the veteran receivers, such as Ginn and Jerricho Cotchery.
By having a good knowledge of the offense and the different receiver positions, he hopes to demonstrate his abilities as a receiver by going at full speed. But the learning doesn’t stop there.
“You’re going to have mistakes. That’s going to come in your first couple of days,” Byrd said. “You learn from it and make sure that mistake is the only one you make.”
With 12 receivers on the Panthers’ current roster, including leading receiver Kelvin Benjamin and second-round draft pick Devin Funchess, Byrd finds himself in a battle for one of the team’s final receiver positions.
Along with running back Mike Tolbert and receiver Avius Capers, Byrd is listed as one of the shortest players on Carolina’s roster. But he’s determined to not let any of those obstacles faze him.
“I’ve always been in that role as the underdog who is just fast,” he said. “I kind of embraced it at a young age and kept going.”