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Panthers’ De’Andre Presley embraces shift to receiver

After practice Wednesday, Carolina coach Ron Rivera is asked if a player distinguished himself.

“De’Andre Presley,” Rivera says.

Presley backed up former Panthers wide receiver Armanti Edwards for two seasons at quarterback at Appalachian State. In 2010, Presley finished third in voting for the Walter Payton Award, named after Rivera’s former Chicago Bears teammate. It’s the Heisman Trophy for FCS players.

Presley, 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, wasn’t drafted. He signed with San Diego as a rookie and switched from quarterback to cornerback. Miami picked him up and eventually promoted him from the practice squad to the roster. Carolina signed him last September.

Presley, 24, is a member of the yes sir, no sir, school of communication, always respectful.

The respect from his coaches is mutual. Rivera asked Presley what position he wanted to play. Since quarterback had been claimed, Presley said receiver. He wanted to stay on offense.

That’s him sprinting across the middle, open and awaiting a pass.

“He’s fast, he’s quick and he has good hands,” Carolina receivers coach Ricky Proehl says.

“It’s a process I take a lot of joy in,” says Presley. “Come in every day with an open mind to get better.”

When was the last time you were a receiver?

“Never,” says Presley, who is from Tampa, Fla. “I’ve always been a quarterback.”

Quarterback is less a position than a lifestyle. Every athlete who has achieved success at quarterback will always be a quarterback. Being a quarterback is like being, say, German. You can move to another country. You’re still German.

On the practice field, Presley occasionally returns to the old country and visits Cam Newton and the fellows. He asks not for the ball but advice.

“Just trying to pick their brain and see what they’re thinking and what they’re seeing and if we’re seeing the same things,” Presley says. “I’ve heard a funny thing – quarterbacks make the best wide receiver coaches. I’m learning.”

How much fun would it be to take a snap?

“Man,” says Presley. “Sometimes I’m warming up and throwing the ball and it just takes me back to when I was in college. I miss being able to have the ball, being able to show my arm and being able to have control. But I’m here to do whatever my team needs.”

What’s the toughest part of the transition?

“I’m really learning how to navigate, I guess, when to be really fast and when to throttle it down,” says Presley. “Being a new receiver, it’s one of those things I just have to learn – which routes to run 100 mph and when to dial back. Coach Rick (Proehl) has really been helpful.”

Presley’s route is not unique. Edwards runs it too. Chicago signed Edwards, the college quarterback turned NFL receiver, Tuesday.

“Well, I’m really happy that he has a home,” Presley says. “I believe he has a lot to offer the NFL and I truly believe the right system will allow him to showcase his talent. Armanti is a great, great football player and the things he can do with the ball in his hands, his toughness, his mental preparation, is the best that I’ve seen.”

The Panthers traded a second-round pick in 2011 to draft Edwards in the third round of 2010. The 2011 pick turned out to be the first of the second round.

When the 2011 draft came, many fans blamed Edwards for the absence of the pick. They apparently wanted him to go back in time and decline to be drafted.

Because so many fans repeatedly criticized Edwards, a few of us repeatedly defended him. I’d seen what he could do in college and I believed in him as a pro.

The louder the criticism became, the more outrageous my praise became. I helped turn Edwards into a cartoon.

He’s not. He’s a quiet man whom, Proehl will tell you, works hard at his craft. One advantage he has in Chicago: The Bears did not give up a pick to acquire him.

Where the route ends neither Edwards nor Presley know.

But if a quarterback turned defensive back turned receiver can stand out on a practice field in June, there’s a chance he’ll get a uniform in September.