Tom Sorensen

Glad to see Panthers sign ex-Independence, Charlotte 49ers star

Austin Duke is a free agent signee with the Carolina Panthers.
Austin Duke is a free agent signee with the Carolina Panthers. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

If you’re not selected in the draft, and you are a slot receiver, you might not want to sign with the Panthers. But Austin Duke appeared thrilled to have the opportunity. The Panthers signed him to a free agent contract.

Duke was a big-time receiver for Independence high school. He played in the Shrine Bowl. He also was big-time the last four seasons for the Charlotte 49ers.

His role was to go deep and break free, and he was good at it. He could run other routes and catch other passes. But serving as a deep threat is was what he did best. He finished his career with 253 catches for 3,437 yards and 25 touchdowns, 24 via the pass.

Duke, who is 5-9, weighed about 160 pounds most of the last four seasons. But he’s been training, and is up to 170.

I thought that Duke gave the fledgling 49ers credibility. He lined up as if he could beat anybody, and he usually did.

Hope he brings that confidence to the NFL. Be great to see Duke make the team.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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