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What can Brown do for Panthers? Get open and, yes, make a catch

Ron Rivera discusses wide receiver Corey Brown

Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera discusses wide receiver Corey Brown's performance and his confidence in his ability.
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Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera discusses wide receiver Corey Brown's performance and his confidence in his ability.

Muhsin Muhammad walks to the locker of wide receiver Corey Brown on Friday after the Carolina Panthers’ 17-16 exhibition loss to New England.

Muhammad slaps Brown, who is facing his locker, on the shoulder and quietly says, “You’ll be all right.”

Some of you don’t want to hear this, but Muhammad, who is second to Steve Smith in every major Carolina receiving category, is correct.

I watch Brown in camp and at practice and his routes are tight and his hands are true. But the public Brown, the one fans have seen at Bank of America Stadium the last two weeks, is not the Brown I see at closed practices. Brown has been targeted 10 times in the exhibitions against Miami and New England. He’s caught one pass for 5 yards.

If you play well, even in games that don’t count, fans will name their children after you. If you play poorly, you’re Byron Bell, last season’s heavily criticized left tackle, who consistently failed to stop the man in front of him.

Brown is this preseason’s Byron Bell, albeit smaller. He has dropped five passes the last two weeks; two would have been touchdowns. He’s dropped balls that were difficult to catch and balls that Byron Bell would have plucked from the air.

Panthers fans booed Brown after another blatant drop Friday. Ask them why Carolina’s first-team offense has been ineffective, and the popular answer is Corey Brown.

Why did tight end Greg Olsen and defensive backs Josh Norman and Bené Benwikere drop passes Friday? Because they caught what Corey Brown has, which is not catching.

Why was traffic horrendous before the New England game? Come on, man. Why do you think? It was Corey Brown.

Brown was not drafted out of Ohio State in 2014 because of concerns he was fragile. He’s not. We’ll learn if his confidence is.

He gets open. He consistently freed himself against the secondary of Miami and New England. Quarterback Derek Anderson missed him when he was wide open on a deep route against the Dolphins. And, no, defensive backs didn’t let him roam because they figured he’d drop the ball.

If Brown were a golfer, he’d reach the green under par and five-putt. If he were a second baseman, he’d dive for the line drive, knock the ball down, pick it up and throw it into the press box. If he were a pastry chef, he’d create a beautiful ornate cake and, yes, drop it.

How does he get past the drops?

“It starts at practice,” says Muhammad. Muhammad says that when he was in a slump, he had key words on which he relied.

Says tight end Greg Olsen: “He doesn’t have to reinvent himself. Nobody’s worried. He’ll go out and catch three in a row and he’ll be fine.”

During the New England game, coach Ron Rivera summoned Brown, put his arm around him and said: “Kid, you’ve got all the talent in the world, all the ability in the world. You’ve shown it. Now go out there and do it because you want to do it, not because you have to.”

Rivera worries that Brown is trying to replace Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina’s top receiver, who tore an ACL and is out for the season.

Says Brown: “I know I’m going to be fine, I’m going to relax and start playing like myself again.”

When training camp began, Brown was the team’s No. 2 receiver. He’s still in the rotation. Even when rookie Devin Funchess returns from his hamstring issues, Brown might start.

Why would Rivera start him? He’d start him because Brown is a sprinter who can get open.

If he continues to drop passes, he’ll be dropped from the rotation.

But if Brown can replicate what he does in practice, the question won’t be: Can he catch a pass? The question will be: Can defensive backs catch him?

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