Carolina Panthers: Marvin McNutt

Most significant move: Carolina thought so much of wide receiver Tiquan Underwood in free agency that it gave him a two-year deal that included a $300,000 signing bonus. The hope was he would replace Ted Ginn Jr. as the speed receiver and possibly double as a return specialist. It never happened. Underwood continued to show the inconsistencies as a receiver that have plagued him throughout his career. For every good catch he made in practice, he had at least one drop, and he was cut for the ninth time in his career.

Wild card: Wide receiver Marvin McNutt was mentioned as a young player the Panthers wanted to get a good look at when they released Steve Smith in March. He never was a factor in being among the top six. Kealoha Pilares was listed as the No. 1 kickoff returner halfway through training camp in Spartanburg, but he never did anything as a receiver to justify wasting a spot on the roster.

What's next: You'd think the Panthers would scour the waiver wires looking for a return specialist who also can play wide receiver. Not so quick. Coach Ron Rivera says he likes undrafted rookie Philly Brown as a returner and sees potential in the former Ohio State star as a receiver. Brown has the speed the Panthers were looking for in Underwood, and he'll cost a lot less. That being said, I still wouldn't be surprised to see the Panthers take a shot at somebody when final cuts are made.

Panthers moves: Released -- WR Tiquan Underwood, WR Toney Clemons, P Jordan Gay, DT Linden Gaydosh, DE Alex Hall, T Oscar Johnson, WR Marvin McNutt, LB Anthony Morales, WR Kealoha Pilares, DE Craig Roh. PUP -- WR De'Andre Presley. IR -- QB Matt Blanchard, TE D.C. Jefferson, C Kevin Matthews.

 
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman mentioned Marvin McNutt among the young wide receivers he wanted to take a good look at when making the decision to cut Steve Smith in March.

He apparently didn't like what he saw.

McNutt was among 10 players released on Sunday as the Panthers reduced their roster to 79 players. Four more players must be cut by Tuesday.

Wide receiver Tiquan Underwood, signed to a two-year deal during the offseason, was the most high-profile departure. He was terminated as a vested veteran.

Underwood never showed the consistency the Panthers were hoping for to replace Ted Ginn Jr. as a speed receiver and kick returner. He had one catch for 5 yards in three preseason games.

Others released were wide receivers Toney Clemons and Kealoha Pilares, defensive tackle Linden Gaydosh, defensive ends Alex Hall and Craig Roh, tackle Oscar Johnson, linebacker Anthony Morales and punter Jordan Gay.

Pilares was the top candidate to become the kickoff returner early in training camp, but like Underwood he was too inconsistent as a receiver.

McNutt was even more inconsistent as a receiver. He had one catch for 5 yards in three preseason games and seemingly dropped as many passes as he caught in practice.

The Panthers are set at the top three receivers in first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant. Brenton Bersin appears set at No. 4, with undrafted rookie Philly Brown next because of his return capabilities.

After that it's down to Tavarres King and Marcus Lucas for the sixth spot, although that's not a given. Watch for the Panthers to keep a close eye on the waiver wire in the upcoming weeks to possibly fill that spot.
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Carolina Panthers wide receiver Brenton Bersin can be easily found on most days by looking for the long, blond locks flowing from the back of his helmet.

He's even easier to find these days on the field.

With first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin rehabbing a bruised left knee suffered on Sunday, Bersin is lining up with starters Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant when the team goes to three-receiver sets.

[+] EnlargeBrenton Bersin
AP Photo/Chris KeaneBrenton Bersin is making the most of his chances in training camp with the Panthers.
He caught the first pass from quarterback Cam Newton out of that formation during Friday's practice, delayed from morning to afternoon because of rain.

Bersin currently is ahead of free agent acquisition Tiquan Underwood and several young receivers, including Tavarres King, Marvin McNutt and Keolaha Pilares. The Panthers said they wanted to get a good look at those three when they released all-time leading receiver Steve Smith.

This is the pinnacle of a journey that began with Bersin being cut early in the 2012 camp after being signed as an undrafted free agent and making the practice squad last season.

Pay attention here: Bersin is a serious threat to make the team.

This makes him one of the more intriguing stories in camp simply because of his past. He grew up in Charlotte as a neighbor of Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. He then went to Wofford College, where as a junior, his nine touchdown catches tied the school record Richardson set in 1958.

If he makes the 53-man roster, he'll be the first Wofford player to do so since Richardson played for the world champion Baltimore Colts in 1959.

For the moment, Bersin is the big man on the Wofford campus -- for the second time in his career.

“It's all surreal," Bersin said. “I've probably stayed in every single dorm on campus, from school and then camp here with the Panthers."

There's nothing surreal about what Bersin is doing on the field. At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, he's a big target for Newton. Having come from the run-oriented triple-option offense at Wofford, he's also one of the team's better blockers at wide receiver.

That's key for a team that wants to base its offense around a power running game. That's why the Panthers are giving him a look with the first team with Benjamin out.

"He's done a nice job for us," coach Ron Rivera said. "He's one of those guys we're interested to see how he plays when he plays against the other team's No. 1.

"He might be able to help us. He's going to get opportunities. He's earning these opportunities with the things he's done. We'll see how he progresses. The preseason games will be really big for his opportunity."

Confidence is the biggest difference between Bersin now and when he first tried out for the Panthers. But there's a reason the Panthers have kept him around for three years.

"Hey, y'all are taking note of Bersin right now, but we've known what he's been able to do the last couple of years," outside linebacker Thomas Davis said. "He's been the guy that has come out and competed hard. He's made plays for a long time.

"If he continues the way he's doing, he's going to get opportunities. I'm looking forward to Bersin doing great things."

Safety Thomas DeCoud called Bersin a "really good diamond in the rough."

Bersin isn't taking anything for granted. As close as he is from realizing his dream of making an NFL roster, he understands the importance each practice.

“The NFL is a cutthroat business,” Bersin said. “You can't go out there and make any mental mistakes and you only have a limited number of reps, so you have to go out and perform every day."

And stand out, which he's done.
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Here's some of what we know about the Carolina Panthers after five days of practice:
  • Quarterback Cam Newton isn't fully recovered from offseason surgery on his left ankle, but he's quickly developing chemistry with his new wide receivers and the ankle shouldn't be an issue when the season begins.
  • Newton needs first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin, who has missed the last few practices with a bruised left knee suffered on Sunday. He's spectacular.
  • Byron Bell has a slight edge over Nate Chandler for the starting left tackle spot, but it's still too close to call.
  • Free-agent cornerback Antoine Cason is making the loss of Captain Munnerlyn an afterthought.
  • Defensive end Greg Hardy hasn't been a distraction after being found guilty of assaulting and threatening his ex-girlfriend.

The rest I'll handle in my mailbag as the team returns to practice today at 9:25 a.m. following an off Wednesday.

To the questions:
@DNewtonESPN: Glad you asked. Gano began living his dream of being the next Forrest Gump (in terms of table tennis) on the first day of camp. Sitting off to the left and a few yards behind his side of the table, I thought he was doing well by the number of balls that kept rolling under my feet. I learned it wasn't because his opponents were having so much trouble with his powerful forehand as much as he was missing the return. Seems the Carolina place-kicker is deadly with his foot but not with a paddle. And he is deadly with his foot. While shooting a SportsCenter segment on Tuesday, the producer stood next to the sun screen I was under, which was directly under the goal post. Gano hit the crossbar twice. I believe he could have hit us if he really wanted to. Gano actually replied to this question on Twitter, saying, "I've had my share of butt whoopins at camp. I'll stick to kicking field goal.'' My only other comment is, to quote Mrs. Gump, "You have to do the best with what God gave you.'' @DNewtonESPN: Unless two or three players step up behind Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant, it wouldn't totally surprise me. Brenton Berson, Tavarres King, Kealoha Pilares, Tiquan Underwood and Marcus Lucas all have had their moments, but not consistent enough that general manager Dave Gettleman will stop scanning the waiver wires. @DNewtonESPN: Starting safeties Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud and cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Melvin White have looked solid. But DeCoud has missed a couple of practices with a leg injury and they're controlling the number of reps for Harper because of his age (31) and his knee that was injured last season. No worries there, but it makes it hard to get a great read on the group. Charles Godfrey was caught looking inside on the first few days of his transition from safety to corner, but had a good practice on Tuesday. I don't look for this group to be the Achilles heel, nothing personal Godfrey, of the team. @DNewtonESPN: I really don't look for it to be any different than last season other than he won't scramble as much. @DNewtonESPN: Yes. Right now I'd say he's in the top six, maybe No. 5. If he makes it, it's a great underdog story. @DNewtonESPN: He is now. He just needs to get that bruised knee healthy. When on the field he looks great. @DNewtonESPN: He gets forgotten because he's so steady, but third-round draft pick Trai Turner. The guard out of LSU is working with the first team on the right side and living up to all the hype. @DNewtonESPN: Surprises? I'll go with undrafted rookie wide receiver Marcus Lucas and undrafted rookie cornerback Carrington Byndom. Both have made plays to catch your eye. Disappointments? Not really a disappointment, but second-round draft pick Kony Ealy hasn't stood out like I expected. And wide receiver Marvin McNutt, noted as one of the young players Carolina wanted to get a look at after cutting Steve Smith, has struggled. 
The St. Louis Rams had one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history from 1999 to 2001. Wide receivers Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Az-Zahir Hakim and Ricky Proehl, along with the running back Marshall Faulk and triggerman Kurt Warner, were so dynamic that they became known as "The Greatest Show On Turf.''

Proehl, now the wide receivers coach of the Carolina Panthers, is planning a reunion.

Sort of.

Proehl, according to his Twitter account, wants to bring Holt, Bruce and Hakim to training camp in Spartanburg, S.C., to help develop his new receiving corps. Here's what he wrote:
"The Greatest Show on Turf'' was awesome, setting all kinds of league records with Mike Martz attack-oriented offense that scored 500-plus points in three consecutive seasons.

Proehl isn't trying to reincarnate that. The Panthers still plan to run a more conservative, ball-control offense.

But he wants to pull on the experience the Rams receivers had when they all came together in 1999 as he replaces the top four receivers from last season.

Perhaps he even sees the similarities the 1999 Rams receivers have with what the Panthers are building.

In Holt, St. Louis had a 22-year-old rookie that burst onto the scene with 53 catches for 788 yards and six touchdowns. That could be Kelvin Benjamin, the 28th pick of the recent NFL draft, for Carolina.

In Bruce, the Rams had a 26-year-old veteran that already had been selected to one Pro Bowl. The Panthers don't have a Pro Bowler, but they do have a couple of proven veterans in Jason Avant, 31, and Jerricho Cotchery, 31.

In Hakim, the Rams had a second-year player who had shown glimpses of potential but done little. That could be Tiquan Underwood, Brenton Bersin, Marvin McNutt or Tavarres King for the Panthers.

In Proehl, the Rams had a 31-year-old journeyman known for his precise route running and ability to make clutch catches. Avant and Cotchery probably would fall more into that category for Carolina.

The Rams went from 4-12 in 1998 to 13-3 and Super Bowl champions in 1999.

The latter is what Proehl ultimately would like to duplicate.

He hopes reuniting "The Greatest Show On Turf''' can help jumpstart that process.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- One by one reporters from around the NFL stopped by the table of Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who under strict orders from his wife was eating a healthy plate of fruit at Wednesday's NFC coaches' breakfast.

One by one they asked about wide receiver Steve Smith and Carolina's decision to cut its all-time leading receiver, which Rivera and management believe was healthy for the Panthers.

The rest of those at the NFL owners meeting apparently aren't so sure. I've had my doubts as well. So Rivera spent well over half of his 45-minute interview period talking about the newest addition to the Baltimore Ravens.

He finally had enough.

He finally became animated -- at least for him -- and defended general manager Dave Gettleman's decision to part ways with one of the most popular players in team history. He talked passionately about how Gettleman took a hit for the team.

He expressed his frustration over reports that it was personal and that Smith was a distraction to the locker room. He made it clear that it was neither.

Finally.

Had he done this two weeks ago, we might have moved on to another topic for the defending NFC South champions.

And it is time to move on.

The Panthers have. They believe they are headed in the right direction even though much of the league believes they are headed for a hard crash after a 12-4 season.

Smith
That is understandable. Even Rivera was a bit nervous when it became obvious the Panthers would not have their top four wide receivers from last season and quarterback Cam Newton needed ankle surgery.

But as I said early in the process, what did they really lose? Not that Rivera wanted to lose Brandon LaFell, or even Ted Ginn Jr. But when he explained that Carolina averaged more than 100 yards rushing in 15 of 16 games last season, and in doing so the wide receivers collectively averaged 10 catches a game, you knew what he meant.

Ten catches? That's not much to replace.

The likes of veteran Jerricho Cotchery, along with his kiddie corps of Tiquan Underwood, Marvin McNutt, Tavarres King and whoever else you want to throw into the mix, surely can catch 10 passes cumulatively.

Now, many of those have to be the big catches. While Smith's numbers were down last season, he still made many of the big third- or fourth-down receptions that made 2013's turnaround possible.

None were bigger than the 19-yard catch into double coverage on fourth-and-10 from deep in Miami territory with 2:33 remaining. That led to a last-minute 20-16 victory that extended Carolina's winning streak to seven straight.

But surely Cotchery, 31, can replace that. He had 10 touchdown catches last season for Pittsburgh. That is more than Smith (4) and No. 2 LaFell (5) combined for in 2013.

A funny aside. The Panthers never intended to go an entire week after releasing Smith without signing a wide receiver, which added to the anxiety of many. They wanted to bring Cotchery in early, but he was on vacation and couldn't.

[+] EnlargeRoman Harper
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesCoach Ron Rivera is confident the additions of veterans like safety Roman Harper will keep Carolina on track despite its losses in free agency.
"I really do wish people and hope people will understand there's a process," Rivera said of the team's plan. "If you do things the right way you have a chance going forward. That to me is what we've done."

And the Panthers aren't done. They plan to add other pieces in free agency and the draft. Some of them will be key.

But with the front seven of the league's No. 2 defense intact, and with Newton expected to be better than ever after surgery for a left ankle issue that has been lingering since college, Rivera has just as much or more to work with now than he had a year ago.

It's not like he has the Jacksonville Jaguars' roster.

There still are some key areas -- the secondary and offensive line at the top of the list -- that must be addressed. If the season started today, right tackle Byron Bell likely would start at left tackle, with Nate Chandler or Garry Williams on the right side.

But is that so bad? Rivera really likes Bell, who played left tackle in college, even though public sentiment is that this is a disaster. Sometimes you have to trust the coach's instinct.

The Panthers already have a Pro Bowl center in Ryan Kalil, and the guard situation is solid with Amini Silatolu and Edmund Kugbila back from injuries that kept them from starting last season.

So the line could be as good or better than a year ago.

The biggest concern in the secondary is the nickel back. Rivera likes the competition he has for the two cornerback spots in Antoine Cason, Melvin White, Josh Norman and Josh Thomas.

He believes Charles Godfrey, if he returns healthy from last season's Achilles injury, can play the nickel as well as free safety. He's thrilled to have New Orleans free agent Roman Harper at strong safety, and if Godfrey doesn't return, Rivera has Robert Lester and a few other young players who played well in spurts last season.

It's really no different than it was this past August when the big questions were the offensive line and secondary.

So Rivera is upbeat. He's ready to talk about something -- no offense -- other than Smith.

"We're headed in the direction of being a better team," he insisted.

Think of it like his breakfast. Sometimes you have to eat fresh fruit instead of bacon and eggs that taste good but aren't exactly good for you in the long run.
Let me introduce you to Marvin McNutt and Tavarres King.

First, they really are NFL wide receivers. And at the moment, they are the top two wide receivers on the Carolina Panthers roster. Maybe the best pair of starting wide receivers you've never heard of.

Until Carolina signs or drafts somebody, that is.

Meanwhile, let's get acquainted with them before I get into my Saturday morning mailbag, which had to be reintroduced for questions on Twitter after top free-agent target Hakeem Nicks signed with Indianapolis on Friday evening.

McNutt is 6-foot-4 and 216 pounds. He was born in St. Louis and went to the University of Iowa, where his 28 touchdown catches set a school record.

He has zero catches in the NFL, unless you want to count that one he caught out of bounds this past season. Philadelphia selected him in the sixth round of the 2012 draft. He was released during final cuts of training camp that year, re-signed to the practice squad and released again in May of 2013.

The Miami Dolphins claimed McNutt in May, then cut him in August. Carolina signed him in October.

When you go to ESPN.com's page on McNutt it says "no stats available" -- at least as a wide receiver. He did have two special-teams tackles for Philadelphia.

He wears No. 15.

King is 6-foot and 191 pounds. He was born in Mount Airy, Ga. and attended the University of Georgia, where he caught 135 passes for 2,602 yards and 20 touchdowns.

He has zero catches in the NFL. Denver selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 draft and eventually placed him on the practice squad. The Panthers claimed him off waivers on Oct. 21. He was exposed to the waiver wire because the Broncos needed to clear a roster spot to activate linebacker Von Miller.

When you go to ESPN.com's page on King it says "no stats available" -- offensive or defensive.

He wears No. 12.

No. 89 is available if he wants it, though.

That is about all I know, and I had to do a Google search for that.

On to the Saturday mailbag, and apologies to the questions I had to eliminate that weren't relevant after Nicks' signing.


So this is how Steve Smith's career with the Carolina Panthers is going to end. Not with an emotional, animated outburst that defined him much of the past 13 seasons, but with a inspirational quote surrounded by clouds on Twitter.

"Some people are going to leave, but that's not the end of the End of your Story. That's the End of their Part in your Story," said the quote Smith put on Twitter Tuesday afternoon.

Above the quote Smith wrote: "God has a plan... sometimes it just hurts [to] find out what it is."

Carolina's all-time leading receiver is taking the high road. He declined to comment on his agent, Derrick Fox, saying he is "not going to play for the Panthers next year."

That doesn't sound like the player the Panthers feel could threaten the leadership of quarterback Cam Newton, which before this past season wasn't considered a leader at all by many of his teammates.

Fox told me on Tuesday he hasn't heard from the Panthers, just as he has said practically every day since general manager Dave Gettleman said his client's future with the team was under evaluation, just as he has said since reports surfaced that the team was trying to trade Smith.

But Fox "knows" the end is coming, whether it's in a trade that won't happen because of Smith's contract or an outright release that will cost Carolina $3 million in guaranteed money and another $2 million in deferred bonus.

Exactly when that day will come -- only Gettleman knows. And Gettleman hasn't commented on Smith since he told reporters at the NFL combine in Indianapolis that "Steve's had a great career. None of us are here forever."

Since then, Smith has gotten public sentiment.

Gettleman? Not so much.

I'm sure Gettleman has a plan for the wide receiver position even though Smith apparently won't be there and none of the team's next three wide receivers from 2013 are under contract. No. 2 receiver Brandon LaFell is visiting New England and is getting interest from Denver and the Jets.

No. 3 receiver Ted Ginn Jr. is visiting Tampa Bay. No. 4 receiver Domenik Hixon is getting interest from Chicago.

That leaves ... Marvin McNutt.

Remember that one pass he caught from Newton? Yeah, the one that was out of bounds.

Imagine telling that to Hakeem Nicks or any other free-agent receiver you're trying to build a new receiving corps around.

In other words, as much good as Gettleman did building up his reputation a year ago, he's tearing it down the way he's handling this.

According to Fox, the 34-year-old Smith hasn't been asked to restructure his contract or asked to take on a lesser role and play as the slot receiver. He said Smith actually wants to play in the slot.

Now even if Carolina wanted that, which apparently it doesn't, that won't happen.

The damage is done.

Or as Fox said, "irreparable."

The Panthers have backed themselves into a corner where, according to Fox, Smith won't be able to play for them next season.

In the past, when Smith has been backed into a corner, he's come out swinging.

Now he's taking the high road that he hasn't always taken in his career, and that is making Gettleman look bad -- particularly if the Panthers have to pay Smith $3 million to play for another team in 2014.

There already are reports that Baltimore or Tampa Bay might be interested in his services.

So this is how it will end, with Smith sending out flowery tweets that tug on the heartstrings of his long-time fans while those same fans pound away at Carolina management.

Smith also tweeted Wednesday:



OK, so the #iceupson wasn't so flowery.

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