Carolina Panthers rookie receiver Philly Brown had company Tuesday afternoon while he fielded punts before practice – coach Ron Rivera.
Rivera was a linebacker during his nine-year NFL career, so Brown figured the nature of Rivera’s visit was to help the undrafted free agent relax.
“His big tip to me was catch it and run,” Brown said later. “He knows about punt return, but he’s more of a just-go-do-it type of guy.”
Unless the Panthers sign a free agent during this week’s final roster cuts, Brown will get a chance to do just that as the Panthers’ main punt and kick returner.
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Brown, who returned kicks at Ohio State, has overcome a shaky start at training camp to emerge from a group of mostly unproven candidates heading into Thursday’s exhibition finale at Pittsburgh.
“He did it in college, so he’s used to being back there,” Panthers special teams coordinator Richard Rodgers said. “The last guy from Ohio State that did it here wasn’t bad.”
Rodgers was referring to Ted Ginn Jr., who finished with 1,496 all-purpose yards as a receiver/returner in 2013 – his only season with the Panthers. Brown said he’s friends with Ginn after meeting him at Ohio State, and now Brown likely will have the chance to succeed him in Charlotte.
“I feel like I’ve done enough to make the team, but obviously not enough to my standards or coach’s standards,” Brown said. “I’m still hungry. I still have that chip on my shoulder. Thursday I’m still going to come out as if I’m out here with no name on me.”
Brown’s given name is Corey, although he goes by his nickname, a nod to his hometown of Upper Darby, Pa., in suburban Philadelphia.
Brown laughed when asked about what it will be like for a Philly guy playing in Pittsburgh this week.
“Hopefully, they call me Philly in front of everybody just to get a little hatred type thing going on in the stadium,” he said.
Brown is accustomed to playing in big stadiums and in front of hostile crowds. Ohio Stadium was filled to its capacity of 102,329 for nearly every Buckeyes game, and Ohio State played in front of crowds approaching 110,000 at Michigan and Penn State.
“These NFL stadiums, compared to what I’m used to playing in, it’s kind of like a spring game to me,” Brown said. “I pride myself in staying calm and never letting any moment get too big.”
A fumble, a lesson
Brown was the Big Ten’s special teams player of the year after his junior year, when he averaged a league-best 12.3 yards a punt return and had touchdown returns of 76 yards against Nebraska and 68 yards against Wisconsin.
Brown’s average dipped to 7.8 yards on punt returns as a senior, and his fumbled punt against Clemson swung the momentum toward the Tigers in the third quarter of this year’s Orange Bowl.
But Brown points out he came back in the fourth quarter to catch three passes (for 32 yards) in the Buckeyes’ 40-35 loss.
“I’m good at letting things go and just moving on,” he said. “You can’t control what happened in the past. Obviously, it was a mistake but at the same time you’ve got to keep playing the game.”
That maxim helped Brown persevere during the first week or two at Wofford when he was struggling to catch Brad Nortman’s punts, which had more hang time than what Brown was used to in college.
Brown has been arriving at practices early to field Nortman’s punts, and staying late to catch more balls shot from a JUGS machine.
Confident about Philly
Brown, who’s 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, ran a disappointing 40-yard dash time of 4.51 seconds at the NFL scouting combine. But teammates say Brown is one of the fastest players on the team.
Though Brown had only two kickoff returns at Ohio State, he has the edge over Fozzy Whittaker for that job, as well. Brown has returned two kicks for an average of 32.5 yards, which ranks fifth among returners during the exhibition schedule.
His two punt returns have gone for just 2 total yards.
Brown knows to keep his job and discourage the Panthers from looking outside the organization for help, he has to produce in the real games.
Rodgers said coaches believe in him.
“That’s the big thing with a returner. You’ve got to have confidence in him and you’ve got to live and die with him,” Rodgers said. “He’s young and he’s got some things to learn, but I think he’s willing. He’s out here early catching them and trying to prepare himself for it.”
And on Tuesday, he had an interested observer with him.
“He’s looked great. He’s done a great job, he really has,” Rivera said. “I don’t think people give him enough credit.”