Ted Ginn showed up at Wofford this summer in a new position – the oldest guy in the Panthers’ wide receiver meeting room.
Ginn, 31, inherited the title of “OG” – short for “original gangster” – from veteran Jerricho Cotchery, the elder statesman among the receivers the past two seasons.
“(Cotchery) had an O-O-O-O-G,” Ginn said, jokingly. “I’ve just got an O.”
With Cotchery’s departure and the return of Kelvin Benjamin from a knee injury, Ginn will assume a more prominent leadership position this season while likely taking on a lesser role in the offense.
Ginn became the Panthers’ de-facto No. 1 receiver last year after Benjamin’s ACL surgery and finished with a career-high 10 touchdowns, the first Panthers receiver to post a double-digit touchdown total since Steve Smith in 2005.
But with Benjamin back and second-year wideout Devin Funchess developing quickly, Ginn has returned to his more customary No. 3 spot. The Panthers expect Ginn to stretch defenses with down-the-field routes that take better advantage of his high-end speed more than the slants and crosses he ran last season in Benjamin’s absence.
More than his 44 catches (for 739 yards) or all those touchdowns, Ginn says he’s most proud of how he stepped up as a team player in 2015.
“I think what meant a lot to me last year was I was a brother,” Ginn said recently. “I went out and played for the guy next to me.”
Ginn, the ninth overall pick by the Dolphins in 2007, has been in the NFL for nearly a decade. But Ginn says he doesn’t feel old unless his wife reminds him or he learns of another NFL peer retiring.
“I watch a lot of guys in my class or guys that came in with me and they’ve been out of this league three or four years now,” Ginn said. “Calvin Johnson just retired, he’s part of my class. Marshawn Lynch, he just retired. He’s part of my class.”
Ginn has been with four teams – including two stints with the Panthers – and has played in two Super Bowls. He has reinvented himself from a top-10 draft bust in Miami to a speed specialist who is a big-play threat every time he touches the ball.
On the first offensive play against Baltimore in Thursday’s exhibition opener, Ginn took a handoff from quarterback Cam Newton and darted 17 yards on an end-around. He later caught a 9-yard pass and was targeted by Newton in the end zone on third-and-goal.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Ginn cut his route short because he didn’t think he was the primary receiver or he probably would have scored.
Ginn was an elite sprinter in high school whose relay team once beat one featuring Usain Bolt in the 4-by-100 meters. Asked about his track background last week, Ginn said he doesn’t think he could hang in the Olympic sprints but added with a little training he’d be able to compete in the hurdles.
That doesn’t sound like someone struggling to come to grips with his advancing age.
“My wife really lets me know sometimes, ‘You’re really the oldest guy in the room.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, baby.’ And we keep on going,” Ginn said, smiling. “There’s a certain amount of respect that comes with being who you are and being 10 years in and being able to be at that stage.”
Ginn has taken ownership of the wide receiver group, saying their meeting area is “my room.” With receivers coach Ricky Proehl, Ginn has tried to foster an atmosphere in which everyone’s opinion is valued – from Benjamin to rookie Miles Shuler, who made the team as a tryout player.
“There’s no big guys in there. There’s nobody belittling nobody. There’s nobody acting like, I’m better than you,” Ginn said. “Everybody’s in there trying to figure out how we can get better.”
Rivera said Ginn has done a nice job handling the role vacated by Cotchery and, before him, Steve Smith.
“He’s the veteran guy now,” Rivera said. “So it’s kind of nice to see him stepping up and the guys rally around him, quite honestly. It’s a good group.”
Counseling some of the team’s younger receivers comes naturally to Ginn, whose father, Ted Ginn Sr., is a longtime and well-known high school coach in Cleveland.
“I’ve been a coach since I was 5. I did water boys for every athletic team of my high school,” Ginn said. “I’ve just been in this field for so long that a lot of things are second nature to me. I know when to talk, when not to talk. I know how to speak.”
But if Ginn follows his father into coaching, it probably won’t be football.
“I might want to take my talent to a different sport. I love track and field. My daughter is begging me to run track right now,” said Ginn, the father of a twin boy and girl. “I just want to be hands-on with them, just like my old man and my mom were with me when it came down to whatever I wanted to be.”
What Ginn wanted to be was a football player, more than a track star. And over the course of 10 seasons and a bunch of address changes, he’s become an OG.
“You don’t consider yourself an old guy, but to those guys you’re kind of up there,” Ginn said. “I’m happy to be where I’m at. Being 10 years in this league is not easy. Being able to just come out and compete is great.”