Inside the Panthers

Is Kaelin Clay taking over full-time as Carolina’s punt returner?

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kaelin Clay (83) makes a reception in front of Tennessee Titans defensive back Jeremy Boykins (39) during the joint practice at Saint Thomas Sports Park in Nashville, TN on Thursday, August 17, 2017.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kaelin Clay (83) makes a reception in front of Tennessee Titans defensive back Jeremy Boykins (39) during the joint practice at Saint Thomas Sports Park in Nashville, TN on Thursday, August 17, 2017. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Less than a week after his return to the Carolina Panthers, receiver Kaelin Clay has been handed a pretty large share of responsibility.

Clay, who made Carolina’s original 53-man roster before being traded to Buffalo for cornerback Kevon Seymour, handled punt return duties on Sunday against Tampa Bay. He returned three punts for 22 yards.

He also took six offensive snaps at receiver, with the expectation that that number will increase in future weeks.

Carolina wants to use Clay as a vertical threat alongside second-round pick Curtis Samuel. Samuel got an opportunity on a deep ball on Sunday, but it was covered well and broken up.

“Being able to bring back Kaelin Clay, a guy that we kept originally on our 53 but made the trade with, bringing him back I think has an opportunity to pay some dividends for us,” coach Ron Rivera said Monday.

But where Clay’s value really shows ison punt returns. Those duties were previously handled by first-round pick Christian McCaffrey, who has not yet found a rhythm after being one of the most prolific returners in the country while at Stanford.

Rivera said Clay’s ability as a punt returner – he was an All-American at Utah – takes some pressure off of McCaffrey.

“It’s one of those things, too, we have to look at the right situation and the right opportunity to throw Christian out there again, but not as the full-time, every time it’s punted he’s out there guy,” Rivera said. “We as coaches will make that decision going forward.”

Jourdan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071, @jourdanrodrigue

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