New wide receiver Jason Avant has relocated to Charlotte after eight years in Philadelphia. To find his place on the Carolina Panthers, he is drawing inspiration from an unlikely source: Tim Duncan.
Avant loved the way Duncan, 38, dominated the NBA Finals while his San Antonio team destroyed Miami.
Never a blazer, Avant, 31, hopes his fundamentally sound approach can have a bit of the same impact with Carolina during 2014.
“As you get older,” Avant said, “if you’ve been playing the game the right way and doing the small things, you don’t age as fast. You don’t have to try to reinvent yourself. There are a lot of fast guys who lose a step and then they can’t get open anymore because they’ve been playing with speed. I haven’t depended on speed so it doesn’t affect me. You see Tim Duncan at age 38 still being able to play at such a high level because he’s been a great fundamental player his whole career.”
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Avant is part of the entirely new wide receiving corps for the Panthers. He is not the most high-profile part – that would be top draft pick Kelvin Benjamin. He is not the fastest part – that would be Tiquan Underwood and his camera-ready hair.
But he could be one of the most important parts.
Along with 10-year veteran Jerricho Cotchery, Avant was signed to bring some leadership and guile to the wide receiver position.
“Jason does things exactly the way you want them – he’s a pro,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “In all honesty, the thought was that if you could have a couple of veteran guys who have been there and done that around a Kelvin Benjamin, that could be very good for him. And Jason has not just been good for Benjamin, he’s been good for a whole lot of guys.”
Rivera said that while Avant and Cotchery have similar skill sets, Avant is a “little more of a blocker” and “will do some things in special teams for us as well.” In Philadelphia, Avant generally was a slot receiver with modest numbers and reliable hands – not unlike wide receiver coach Ricky Proehl when he played for the Panthers. Avant averaged 47 catches and 587 receiving yards over the past five seasons with the Eagles.
Avant was not a fan of Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly, however. Kelly’s first season in Philadelphia in 2013 turned out to be Avant’s last as an Eagle. Avant ranked sixth on the team in receiving yardage and, in his words, “mostly ran clear-out routes.”
Said Avant of Kelly: “When it came to certain things, we butted heads sometimes – route running and route technique. So I knew I didn’t fit his system.”
As for his release in March, Avant said it didn’t surprise him because he wasn’t the burner Kelly wanted as a wide receiver.
“I knew that was coming maybe four games into last season,” Avant said. “When they stop calling your number and guys start running some of the routes that you run – I knew from the beginning that I didn’t fit his style of offense, in that I’m a crafty guy that gets open in an atypical way.”
Avant said the Panthers were one of “five or six” teams that called him after his release, but he wasn’t convinced he would fit in until he saw Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman’s easy rapport with everyone from the players to the janitors in the building. He then signed a one-year deal.
“I know I’ve got to prove myself, over and over again,” Avant said. “You always do in this league. And I’m ready.”