The Carolina Panthers’ starting wide receivers are a speed guy who was the No. 3 wideout during his first stint with the team and a second-year player who was plagued by drops during the preseason and has to earn his nickname back.
This is what life after Kelvin Benjamin looks like.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Ted Ginn and Corey Brown will be the starters Sunday at Jacksonville, with rookie Devin Funchess and veteran possession receiver Jerricho Cotchery the first receivers off the bench.
It’s quite a vote of confidence in Brown, who had several drops the preseason, including touchdown passes in consecutive exhibitions against Miami and New England.
In discussing Brown on Monday, Rivera caught himself in mid-sentence and started referring to Brown again as Philly, a nod to Brown’s hometown.
“I’m going to call him Philly. Philly catches the ball. Corey’s a nice young man,” Rivera said.
A few minutes later, Brown tweeted, “PHILLY!!”
Brown also has gone back to No. 10, the jersey number he wore at Ohio State.
Rivera said receivers coach Ricky Proehl has been working with Brown, who caught passes from Proehl before last week’s exhibition finale at Pittsburgh. Brown pulled in the only pass thrown to him against the Steelers – a 9-yarder from Derek Anderson.
“I think he’s got his confidence back. It’s not like those weren’t fixable things,” Rivera said. “You go back and look at them it’s a matter of finishing the catch and then going. In two of the instances he took his eyes off the ball and let the ball get into his chest. The other one he put his head down just as it got to his hands.
“Again, just finish the catch and then we’ll worry about what happens afterward.”
Brown and Ginn are two of the fastest players on the Panthers’ roster. But neither is a true No. 1 receiver.
Ginn has 40 career starts in eight years, but 35 of those came during his three seasons in Miami.
Brown caught 21 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns last season as an undrafted rookie.
He played well down the stretch after the Panthers began using younger, faster options. Brown caught five passes for 61 yards in the two playoff games.
Rivera said Brown’s speed worked in his favor as the Panthers made roster cuts and finalized their Week 1 receiving rotation. And while Rivera said Brown has to be productive, “he’s got an opportunity to show us that he’s Philly.”
Ginn, 30, has been a non-factor as a receiver with San Francisco and Arizona. He had 14 catches at Arizona last season after leaving Carolina following the 2013 season when the Cardinals offered him a more lucrative contract.
But he seems to fit in Mike Shula’s offense in Carolina, at least he did in 2013 as a complementary receiver to Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell. Ginn caught 36 passes that season, and his five receiving touchdowns and 15.4 yards-per-catch average were both career highs.
Tight end Greg Olsen says it will take a group effort for the Panthers’ passing game to succeed without Benjamin, a 1,000-yard receiver as a rookie who sustained a season-ending knee injury during the final week of training camp.
“I think we’re kind of over the hardship of getting over losing a guy like Kelvin, moving past that a little bit the best you can,” Olsen said. “Realizing it’s not so much replacing Kelvin as it is guys stepping up to collectively contribute to fill that void.”
The X-factor could be second-year wideout Kevin Norwood, acquired last week in a trade with Seattle.
Rivera said he watched Norwood go through individual drills Monday, and was impressed with the route-running by the former Alabama standout.
Now it’s a matter of learning the offense.
“We’re hoping he gets up to speed as quick as possible because we’d like to give him an opportunity also and just see where he is,” Rivera said.