Carolina Panthers

Confidence boost: Carolina Panthers WR Damiere Byrd is ‘top tier’

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Damiere Byrd, left, races toward midfield on a kickoff return against the Baltimore Ravens during the second quarter on Thursday. Making plays on special teams is key to Byrd’s roster spot.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Damiere Byrd, left, races toward midfield on a kickoff return against the Baltimore Ravens during the second quarter on Thursday. Making plays on special teams is key to Byrd’s roster spot. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

A touch of confidence can go a long way for a guy like Damiere Byrd.

Weighing 180 pounds at 5-foot-9 – and maybe 5-foot-11 if you include his hair – Byrd is the smallest player on the Carolina Panthers’ roster.

He’s also in one of the best position battles this preseason for the defending NFC champions. With Carolina’s No. 1-4 receivers set, he’s competing for the fifth – and possibility final – receiver spot.

To hear Cam Newton tell it, though, Byrd can be more than just No. 5.

“He’s got to find ways to stay confident,” Newton said after Thursday’s night 22-19 exhibition loss to the Baltimore Ravens. “When he’s confident, he’s as good as, if not one of, our top tier guys. He’s very shifty, he’s fast and when he gets in that mentality that no one can cover him, then he can be an asset for us.”

When he’s confident, he’s as good as, if not one of, our top tier guys.

Panthers QB Cam Newton, on WR Damiere Byrd

Newton’s nickname for Byrd may not inspire much confidence in the first-year player from South Carolina. Newton has taken to nicknaming his receivers and almost all of his offensive teammates. He calls Byrd “Bud Light” because he says Byrd’s hair – which is faded on the side and tallish on top – looks like a cigarette butt (possibly confusing butt for bud).

Plus there’s another Byrd – LaRon – who is taller than Damiere. Thus, Bud Light.

Byrd’s confidence could have been shaken late in the exhibition. With the Panthers down three points with 2 minutes left in the game, Byrd was set to return a punt near midfield.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said it was a young guy trying too hard to make a play. And receiver Kelvin Benjamin even said teammates on the sideline were putting pressure on Byrd to break it open.

Byrd muffed the punt, and the Panthers never got a chance to score a winning touchdown.

“Just didn’t read it well,” Byrd said at his locker after the game. “I didn’t get under it fast enough. But you live and you learn. And I’ll go back to camp and try to re-evaluate it.”

Still making plays

His kickoff returns were dynamic, though. Taking the repetitions from Ted Ginn Jr. for the exhibition, Byrd took kickoffs 48 yards and 30 yards and needed to beat the final man on each to get a score.

Rivera has told Byrd that to make the team he needs to make plays on special teams. That point made it to Byrd.

His only contribution to the offense was the longest play of the game for either team. Facing third down, Byrd raced down the Panthers’ sideline and hauled in a Joe Webb pass with one hand for 35 yards.

“You see the ball and you reach out with whatever hand you have,” Byrd said. “It stuck well and I was happy with it.”

A three-way race

Byrd appears to be in direct competition with Brenton Bersin and Kevin Norwood for the fifth receiver spot. The Panthers traded for Norwood last season, and he’s had a solid camp so far.

Bersin has been in Carolina’s system longer than any other receiver on the roster. He’s been in four training camps with the team with two seasons logged.

Bersin caught five passes for 69 yards as Derek Anderson’s favorite target Thursday. He also can field punts and has Newton’s trust.

But Bersin injured his ribs late in the first half Thursday, and it’s unclear if he will miss any time because of the injury.

A tough decision

For months Rivera has called the decision on the final receiver a tough one. And he’s said it’s not out of the realm of possibility for the Panthers to keep a sixth receiver if he’s better than the ninth offensive lineman, for example.

“We’ve got so many great guys in the room. It’s a brotherhood,” Benjamin said. “I’m going to hate to see a lot of these guys go. We’ve really bonded over the last couple of weeks. I hope they just keep putting good film out there for another team to pick them up. We’ve got a ton of talent.”

The Panthers will trim their roster from 75 to 53 on Sept. 3 after the fourth exhibition against Pittsburgh. No doubt it will take all four preseason contests for Carolina to make its decision.

But if it’s confidence that Byrd needs to make this team like Newton said, he got more of it Thursday night.

“I walk away with this game with more confidence than I walked in with,” Byrd said. “And despite that last play of the game I think I had a pretty good game.”

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