T.J. Heath was on the 13th hole of Stoney Brook Golf Course in Jacksonville, Ala., on Monday when he got the call he had been waiting for.
He heard his phone buzzing in the golf cart and saw it was his agent calling.
“I was like, ‘Ohhh, this might be some good news,” Heath, 27, said.
It was. The Panthers wanted the cornerback to come to Spartanburg, work out and, if all went well, sign to the 90-man roster.
He was so excited about the call that he couldn’t focus on his round and eventually left the course early to head to the airport.
Wednesday, he made an immediate impression by breaking up two passes in his first practice with Carolina.
“Yesterday was a long day so I came here today with the mindset that I’m going to get better,” Heath said. “I’ve been out of football for about a month and a half so when I came in I tried to make an impact the first day.”
Heath, who went undrafted out of Jacksonville State in 2011, has bounced around several teams and practice squads, most recently with the Dolphins last year. He’s appeared in seven games in his career.
Heath had two pass breakups against undrafted rookie receiver Damiere Byrd. The first came on a post route where Heath saw the break and moved quickly to jump around Byrd and bat the ball away.
“The second one I knew he was running the fade and I saw the ball coming out of the corner of my eye so I just closed it and tried to get close to what I could,” Byrd said. “I got close enough to it to make a play. If I can keep doing that, I think I may be OK.”
Heath is with the Panthers because veteran Chris Houston decided to retire earlier this week. He informed Panthers coach Ron Rivera of the decision Monday, saying he couldn’t play at 100 percent after re-injuring the toe he had surgery on last year.
Rivera and the Panthers targeted a player with camp experience rather than an undrafted rookie.
“When we worked him out part of it is knowing he’s had the opportunity to work at other camps and been with other teams, most notably he was with Miami,” Rivera said. “It’s not like we’re bringing in a true rookie or someone off the street that hasn’t been in camps or hasn’t been on a roster or hasn’t been with a team for part of a season.”