Columns & Blogs

Here’s how to fix Carolina Panthers receiver Corey Brown

If you saw this photo of Carolina Panthers wide receiver Corey Brown a year ago, you wouldn’t have wondered what happened next.
If you saw this photo of Carolina Panthers wide receiver Corey Brown a year ago, you wouldn’t have wondered what happened next.

The Carolina Panthers’ preseason has devolved into a two-sided theme.

One side says: Cut Corey Brown. He can’t catch the football and he spent the exhibitions against the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots proving it. The Carolina Panthers’ offense doesn’t work with him in there so get him out.

One senses a mob of angry villagers. There’s no chance, of course, that they catch Corey Brown.

The other side says: Fix Corey Brown. He’s too valuable to drop. Did you see Brown drop passes in training camp this summer? You did not. Did you see him drop passes in practice before this week? You did not.

For Brown, catching passes was, until the Miami exhibition, as natural as shaking hands. He didn’t think about it. He did it. Run the route, catch the ball, next.

He now appears to be lost in unnecessary thought. There was a deep pass in the New England game, a pretty spiral working its way through the air. You knew, as Brown looked up and awaited the ball, that there was no chance he would make the catch. He tried to will the ball into his body and it fell harmlessly to the turf.

Columns such as this, if Brown reads them, don’t help. Incessant complaints and conversations on sports talk radio don’t help. Sports reports on TV don’t help. But it’s not our job to help.

Some fans undoubtedly have sent solutions to the Panthers. See a sports psychologist. Cover your hands with the magic stuff uncle Cliff used when he was all-county in the single wing. And, stop thinking.

You could approach Brown at, say, the store and say: “Hey, Corey, stop thinking about catching passes and just go out and catch passes.”

That might not work.

Here’s something that will. Drop the Corey and become Philly again.

In an interview after the New England exhibition quarterback Cam Newton called Brown “Philly.” Carolina’s fine receivers’ coach, Ricky Proehl, often calls Corey “Philly.” Coach Ron Rivera usually calls Brown “Philly.” They remember the good old days.

When Brown arrived at Ohio State there was already a Corey Brown on the roster. So it was decided that he would claim the name of his hometown and become Philly.

Philadelphia is less a city than a collection of neighborhoods and it comes with an interesting edge. It’s the rare city not built upon gambling that still supports boxing. Think of the boxers that come out of there. They’re rarely pretty. They’re usually craftsmen. They’re invariably tough.

Philly Brown didn’t wait for the ball to come to him as if he was ordering room service. Philly went after the ball.

Think of the name Corey, and what it connotes. Hey, see that SUV that looks like every other SUV, as if the vehicles have a dress code, as if the driver is reluctant to stand out? Corey is driving.

Corey has no edge. Corey waits for life to come to him. Corey waits for the ball to come to him, too.

Corey was Carolina’s No. 2 receiver throughout camp and into the exhibition season. Corey was a starter. Corey appeared to be a lock to make the roster (and still is). Corey was safe.

Philly Brown, however, was the rookie who wasn’t selected in the 2014 NFL draft. General managers and scouts, people who make a good living determining which college players are worthy, decided not to draft Philly. Speculation, says Rivera, was that Philly couldn’t take NFL hits.

After watching him work, Rivera had no doubts about Philly’s toughness. Philly started three games last season. He caught 21 passes for 296 yards, one of them a 47-yard touchdown. He caught two touchdown passes last season. He caught five playoff passes for 61 yards.

Philly rushed 8 times for 95 yards during the regular season. He returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown.

Philly dropped some punts. But if you thought about him before the Miami exhibition, that’s likely not the image that came to mind.

I get nasty email and Tweets every time I write or say this, but Brown has a future as an NFL wide receiver.

Philly Brown, I mean.