The first practice of the first day of Carolina Panthers’ minicamp ends, and almost all the defensive backs, quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, linebackers and linemen leave the field.
Two players remain. Rookie tackle Daryl Williams stays at the behest of offensive line coach John Matsko. On the far edge of the field Garry Peters works with scouting assistant Jonathan Fields. Fields plays quarterback and Peters plays cornerback. As Fields drops back, Peters backpedals, working on footwork and technique. The drill is Peters’ idea.
He arrived in Charlotte Thursday from Conyers, Ga., his hometown. He says he studied film given to him by Steve Wilks, Carolina’s assistant head coach and coach of the secondary.
"I want to get better before coach Wilks has to correct me," Peters says. "I want to take all my weaknesses and better those."
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As a Clemson senior those weaknesses rarely were apparent. Peters had two interceptions and caused two fumbles, twice sacked the quarterback and twice pressured him. He was a first-team all-ACC cornerback, and of course he expected to be drafted.
He watched by himself in Conyers, which is 24 miles east of Atlanta, and never heard his name called.
"I was kind of sad," says Peters.
Wilks texted him during the seventh round, and said that although the Panthers were out of picks, they wanted him. Peters signed a contract and surrendered his lifelong allegiance to the Atlanta Falcons.
"It all felt like a great fit," says Peters. "My defensive backs coach at Clemson (Mike Reed) played for the Panthers."
The last player selected in Carolina’s first draft, Reed played two seasons for the Panthers.
Reed was drafted. Why wasn’t Peters?
"Long speed," says Carolina head coach Ron Rivera. "He ran a 4.59 on pro day."
Rivera says Peters is in the same situation Corey (Philly) Brown was last season. Teams passed on Brown because they didn’t think he was big enough to hold up. Carolina signed him as a free agent, and he’s tough, says Rivera. Brown held up. If Peters holds up, he ought to be a Panther.
"I feel I’m going to make this team," says Peters. "I don’t just set my goals to make the team. I want to win the Super Bowl, and in order to win the Super Bowl I have to better myself. So I’m just coming out every day, trying to get better and be the best that I can be. I want to help any way possible, whether it’s coming off the bench, playing limited snaps or all special teams. Whatever it takes."
Peters is an easy interview. He extends his hand, introduces himself, calls me sir and thanks me for taking time to talk to him.
What’s he like on the field? If you watched Peters at both of Friday’s sessions, this is what you’d see.
You’d see a 6-0, 201-pound cornerback who likes contact and presses receivers. You’d see him in his favorite shoes, shoes he received at the NFL Combine, orange with electric yellow tape. You’d see a man with a Clemson helmet in his Bank of America Stadium locker. You’d see a player who, when he makes a mistake, drops to the grass and does 10 push-ups. You’d see a player anticipate an out pattern by Marcus Lucas, swoop in and knock down the ball.
When Peters finally leaves the field, we walk to the stadium. I ask him why he worked overtime.
"You have to be hungry at this level," he says. "Everybody doesn’t get this opportunity; it doesn’t come around much. I feel I have to take advantage. God blessed me with this ability, and I’m not going to let Him down."
By now almost everybody has returned to the stadium. But Rivera lingers.
"This is a little thing," I tell him. "But Peters was one of the last players to leave the field."
"It’s not little," Rivera says.
Sorensen: 704-358-5119; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @tomsorensen