Tom Sorensen

Panthers tight ends room has a `No Vacancy` sign. Hemingway wants to change that

Panthers tight end Temarrick Hemingway (46) blocks linebacker Christian Miller.
Panthers tight end Temarrick Hemingway (46) blocks linebacker Christian Miller. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

The pass went down the right side of the field, and it was low, too low to catch. But No. 46 went skidding to the ground anyway, and caught the ball cleanly.

Everybody at Wofford who saw the catch and carried a Carolina Panthers roster pulled it out to look for No. 46. There are two of them. Defensive 46 is Sione Teuhema, a rookie linebacker out of Southeastern Louisiana.

Offensive 46 is Temarrick Hemingway, a tight end out of Loris, S.C., North Myrtle Beach High and S.C. State.

Since the player making the catch wears the white jersey of the offense, it is Hemingway who made the catch.

I went to practice Tuesday to write a mature adult column about a starter or star. But I liked the catch. And I like the spelling. Temarrick, who turned 26 last week, spells his name the same way author Ernest Hemingway spells his.

There’s a public’s right to know component. Does the young Hemingway read the late Hemingway, and how often do teammates ask the tight end about Hemingway’s 67-year-old, “The Old Man and the Sea”?

So, yeah, I’ll write about the starter or star next week. One of the advantages to writing about a player few know is that there rarely is a crowd around him. If a player shares his jersey number, there’s never a crowd. After practice Tuesday, it’s Hemingway and me.

Not every coach can watch every play. Do the Panthers notice when an unheralded player gives up his body to make a play?

“You notice,” says Carolina coach Ron Rivera.

What do you notice about Hemingway?

“Young player, big, athletic, works hard, and has really learned to practice,” says Rivera.

Hemingway is a lean 6-foot-5 and 246 pounds, and he can move.

The Los Angeles Rams selected him in the sixth round of the 2016 draft, and he played eight games. In 2018, the Rams released him; he signed with the Denver Broncos and played five games. The Broncos released him May 13, 2019, and the Panthers signed him May 14.

Tight end on the Panthers might be one of those positions with a “No Vacancy” sign hanging beneath. In Greg Olsen, there’s one of the all-time best. Ian Thomas, who is beginning his second season, dazzled at practice Tuesday. Chris Manhertz, 6-6 and 255 pounds, is the blocker. Cole Hunt is in his second season, as are Jason Vander Laan and Marcus Baugh. None of them share a number.

If you’re one of the many, how can you entice coaches to remember your name?

“I can show them that I’m a versatile player and I belong here,” says Hemingway. “I belong in the NFL.”

Can you imagine not thinking that way?

“I have to believe, have to,” says Hemingway. “If don’t have that mindset, I’m set up for failure.”

About going to the ground for the catch.

“I don’t mind getting dirty at all, blocking or catching,” says Hemingway. “That’s my mentality, that dog in me. That’s what I bring.”

Hemingway, who talks on the field after practice Tuesday, says that at S.C. State he was raw, an athlete. He says he’s still “kind of raw, but I’m starting to develop my assets and abilities.”

Hemingway has help in Olsen.

“Olsen’s been in the league 13 years,” says Hemingway. “He has a lot of tips and we talk it out all the time. I can go to him. Ian (Thomas) played last year so if I have a question I can go to him.”

How many tight ends have had a career as outstanding as Olsen’s? Along with his talent, Olsen is a bright guy, and he’s willing to share.

“Greg is awesome with that,” says Hemingway. “Telling you what to do, how to do it. He wants you to do better. That’s the kind of person he is.”

Hemingway heard a voice after practice Monday, and although it wasn’t Olsen’s, he immediately remembered it. The voice belonged to Adrian Kollock. They played together two hours southeast of camp at S.C. State.

“He was my quarterback,” says Hemingway. “I was walking off and he called my name. I know that voice. Oh, yeah, it was good talking to him.”

Speaking of voices, how often do you hear about Ernest?

“I get The Old Man and the Sea all the time,” says Hemingway. “I say that he’s my late great, great, great uncle that I didn’t know.”

You hear anything about it from your Carolina teammates?

“I’m surprised (and gratified) nobody has said anything,” says Hemingway.

Did you read the novel?

“I did read The Old Man and the Sea,” Hemingway says of Hemingway. “It was a good book; a lot of things to learn from the book. The old man out there on the sea caught the big fish.

“That’s what I’m trying to do out here. I’m after my big fish, and that’s making the team.”

Bears exhibition: what to watch for

Most NFL exhibitions are tough to watch for four quarters. You might go in excited, but three quarters of the way through, Carolina Panthers you’ve never heard of are dueling with Chicago Bears that Chicago fans have never heard of.

I want to see beginning of the game, Carolina’s starters and pseudo-starters against their Chicago counterparts. I want to see Carolina’s rookies and free agents.

But I also want to see the player who in camp has made the great catch or interception, the great run, or throw or flying deflection.

I want to see Elijah Holyfield, who everyday he’s in camp becomes less the son of former heavyweight champion Evander and more Elijah, a powerful back out of Georgia.

Who is the guy making the catch on the left side of the end zone with a man on him? That’s No. 18, DeAndrew White, a receiver who once played for Alabama.

After listening to Alabama coach Nick Saban complain about the grueling SEC schedule the Crimson Tide plays, a schedule that contributed to getting slammed by Clemson last season, I’m surprised that White, 27, has the energy to practice.

A running back goes out for a route and runs it like an accomplished receiver. His cuts are certain, his speed and quickness unquestioned. There he is, free in the corner of the end zone, and he grabs the ball and makes it his.

That player is Reggie Bonnafon, who spent last season on Carolina’s practice squad. At Louisville, he was a quarterback, then a running back, then a receiver.

The running back mix behind Christian McCaffrey includes Bonnafon and Holyfield, incumbent Cameron Artis-Payne and Jordan Scarlett, a fifth-round draft pick out of Florida who appeared to be having a very good camp until he hurt his back.

Ran into Jim Popp, the general manager of the Toronto Argonauts. Popp, who grew up in Mooresville, has won the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup, the championship, five times. Popp is scouting.

There’s more football talent than 32 NFL rosters can accommodate. Every August somebody will make a great play and even have a great practice. Then the roster is sliced and the player is gone.

The CFL is a great second-chance league. There are dozens of players who, based on their talent and their work in Spartanburg and in other camps, deserve one.

Appreciating Kemba

There’s Kemba Walker with Team USA at its Las Vegas training camp. It’s a great reward for Walker, who has earned the position. It’s also a reward for Gregg Popovich, the head coach, and his team.

To commit to play for Team USA essentially turns basketball into a year-round job. Hauling bodies up and down court for an 82-game regular season schedule, and a playoff schedule that begins April 13 and runs to June 13, is a grind.

Veteran stars abandoned Team USA this summer, and you can’t blame them. Instead, credit Walker, the only player to make the all-NBA first, second or third team, for showing up.

This is the first time we’ve seen him in a uniform other than the Charlotte Hornets since he played at Connecticut. At Team USA’s practices, he wears a blue jersey with USA written in big letters in red.

For fans of Walker, and the Hornets, maybe it will help prepare us for next season, when we see Walker in an alien jersey. Next season, he’ll wear the green of the Boston Celtics.

We can hammer the Hornets for losing him. But even with him, they were nothing more than a team that, in a good season, could compete for eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings, seventh if they were feeling cocky.

The team long ago began to parlay good and great draft picks into mediocre talent, and the talent around Walker was insufficient.

The Hornets could have offered Walker as much as $221 million over five years. They offered considerably less. So Walker escaped to Boston.

Every time we smile and shake our heads at a play he makes for the Celtics we’ll think, “We used to see him make those plays in Charlotte.”

The Hornets did not acknowledge that they wouldn’t retain him until they didn’t retain him. If they had, they could have collected young talent in a trade.

Whether the player they ultimately acquired for him from Boston, Terry Rozier, is a starting NBA point guard, we’ll figure out next season. At this juncture, all we know is that he is paid like one.

If you watched Walker play, you appreciate his talent, the work he puts in to realize that talent, and the fearlessness with which he plays. If you’ve spent time around him you think, man, he doesn’t act as if he’s a big deal.

I’m glad he was in our town. Class supersedes uniform, and I’ll pull for him no matter where he plays.

Glad I got the chance to pull for him here.

Long live Tom Brady

Tom Brady turned 42 this week. He is the world’s oldest NFL position player. Only kickers are older.

I thought that last season, for the first time, he began to slip. Brady started so slowly it was as if he was human. Then he wasn’t, and he guided his New England Patriots to another Super Bowl victory, his sixth.

New Orleans Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees is by comparison a youth who does not turn 41 until January. Like Brady, he has long been part of the system his team employs. He’s as much a point guard as a passer, running New Orleans’ quick-throw, quick-decision offense.

As good as Brees is, he is not who he was. He’s slipped. Brady has not, and people have noticed, among them his employers. This week they signed him to a contract that, over the next three years, will pay him $85 million. He’s been bumped from $15 million to $23 million this season, and will receive $30 million in 2020 and $32 million the season after that.

Brady talks about playing until he’s 45. He’ll be 44 during his $32-million season.

We’ve seen great quarterbacks, among them Peyton Manning and Joe Montana. Montana was the best I’d seen. But Brady has supplanted him at the top.

Brady came to the NFL in 2000. Bill Clinton was president.

Brady has been sacked 473 times. What keeps him upright? Is it his diet? That’s part of it. When did you last encounter him at Obeseburgers, which might be a chain that started in Myrtle Beach?

Two years ago, Brady wrote “The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance.”

The book is more than a catchy title. The theme: drink smoothies and eat leaves. He says that as he gets older, he is more likely to cheat on his diet, but cheating for him is a lifestyle for most of us. He can’t cheat too often; he says he wants to play until he’s 45.

The Patriots have sustained excellence because they’ve had football’s best quarterback and football’s best coach in Bil Belichick. In a game you have to win, or a drive on which you have to score, whom would you prefer to Brady?

To pay Brady an average of $35 million a year in 2019, 2020 and 2021 is a gamble for the Patriots. But I wouldn’t bet against him.

Short takes: Who can cover Ian Thomas?

The most impressive performance I saw at training camp was turned in by Thomas. A second-year player out of Indiana, Thomas seemingly was free Tuesday no matter which route he ran. He was open over the middle, down the left side, down the right, and in the end zone. He’s 6-4 and some of the passes were contested. He caught them anyway…

Five things I want to see from the Panthers this season: (1) Kawaan Short and Gerald McCoy line up side by side. (2) Donte Jackson reach the point at which instincts and speed come together. You’ll recall when that happened with Thomas Davis. He was a superb athlete, and then he was a superb football player. (3) Watch the edge rushers swoop in. The Panthers might have more good ones than they ever have. (4) Olsen enjoy one last injury free season; (5) I don’t want to get arrogant, but have at least one of the players I’ve written about make the team…

Good boxing card Aug. 17 at CenterStage@noda. Christy Martin, a former women’s lightweight champion who will promote the card, also will be featured at BB&T Ballpark Aug. 15, part of Domestic Violence Awareness Night. Two women, Logan Holler and Samantha Pill, will headline the boxing card. Also fighting will be two popular local boxers, Stevie Massey and Kyle Harrell…

You can always shop around if you don’t like the numbers. But these were the NFL futures odds I saw Thursday morning.

The Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots are the Super Bowl favorites at 6-1.

In the NFC South, New Orleans is 10-1, Atlanta and Carolina 40-1, and Tampa Bay 100-1.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Observer columnist.
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