NFC South: Brenton Bersin

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers on Monday signed four players scheduled to become exclusive rights free agents.

Running back Fozzy Whittaker signed a two-year deal. Wide receiver Brenton Bersin, offensive lineman Brian Folkerts and linebacker Ben Jacobs each signed one-year deals.

Whittaker rushed for 145 yards and one touchdown on 32 attempts this past season. He currently would fall in at No. 2 on the depth chart behind Jonathan Stewart.

Bersin played in 15 games this past season, catching 13 passes for 151 yards and one touchdown. He also returned 14 punts for 86 yards and seven kickoffs for 167 yards.

He will be replaced in the return game by wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., who reached an agreement with the Panthers on Monday, according to league sources.

Folkerts is a reserve center and guard. Jacobs led Carolina with nine special teams tackles this past season.
Brenton Bersin and Brian FolkertsMelissa Melvin-Rodriguez/Carolina PanthersBrenton Bersin (left) and Brian Folkerts donated their long hair to a charity that provides wigs for children.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Wesley Thornburg lost all of her hair two years ago when she underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments after a relapse of acute lymphoid leukemia.

Thanks to a friend with a collection of wigs, she had options while her hair grew out.

Thanks to Carolina Panthers wide receiver Brenton Bersin and offensive lineman Brian Folkerts, other children will have the same options.

Bersin hadn’t had a haircut since August 2012, when one of his buddies in college shaved his head. Folkerts hadn’t had one since his junior year in college four years ago, when one of his friends gave him a buzz cut.

But both were more than willing to get one on Wednesday to benefit Wigs for Kids, an organization that provides free hair replacement systems for children who have lost their hair due to medical-related issues.

[+] EnlargeBrian Folkerts
Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez/Carolina PanthersOffensive lineman Brian Folkerts with his honorary stylist, 9-year-old Jeramiah Karriker.
The ceremonial cuts, where “clipping is allowed," took place in the Panthers' locker room at Bank of America Stadium. Thornburg, 18, was the honorary stylist for Bersin and Jeramiah Karriker, 9, was for Folkerts.

Thornburg said it best what their donations will mean to other kids by relating what a wig meant to her.

“When you’re a teenager, hair is a pretty big thing for a girl," she said.

Carrie Keuten, the events coordinator at Charlotte’s Levine Children’s Hospital where Thornburg and Karriker have been patients, said hair donations such as these are “extremely vital."

“First of all, I know both these kids and they’ve been through a lot ... a lot in their young years," she said. “I’ve seen them with hair, I’ve seen them without hair and now I’ve seen them with hair again. For their self- confidence, for their self-esteem, to see a radiant smile ... we all feel complete with our hair.

“They’re beautiful with or without it. But [hair] can define them in personal ways that none of us can actually experience unless we’ve actually been in their shoes.’"

Folkerts and Bersin had their hair styled after the initial cuts. Folkerts went for the 2015 look of New England wide receiver Julian Edelman. Bersin went for the “Sunshine" look, otherwise known as the character Ronnie Bass in the movie “Remember The Titans."

Both thought about getting their hair cut this past summer. Both are glad they waited for a more worthwhile event.

Folkerts said he might have gotten his hair cut even sooner but felt he had to keep it growing after former tackle Jordan Gross nicknamed him “Caveman."

The beard, however, he’s keeping.

“I’m going to have to grow the beard out to balance it out," he said with a laugh.

Bersin admitted he was “stressed" about getting the cut, particularly when people began laughing after the initial clips. But after seeing the final product he – as well as his girlfriend – approved.

“Maybe a little girl can have hair now," Bersin said. “And I can grow it out and get it cut [for this] again."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – When will wide receiver Stephen Hill be called up from the Carolina Panthers practice squad?

That has been one of the more asked questions in Charlotte since the Panthers signed the second-round pick in September after he was released by the New York Jets following a two-year stint.

Hill
Well, it could be for Saturday’s NFC divisional playoff game at Seattle.

The Panthers are looking for more speed with undrafted rookie Philly Brown unable to practice on Tuesday and Wednesday because of a shoulder injury suffered in Saturday’s playoff victory over Arizona.

Coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday the team “potentially could" pull up a player from the practice squad. When asked if that player would be Hill, he said yes.

Hill is fast. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds at the 2012 NFL combine.

That doesn’t mean he’ll be called up. The Panthers also are looking at third-string quarterback Joe Webb, who has moved back to wide receiver this week.

Webb showed his speed running down Atlanta kick returner Devin Hester in the regular-season finale.

The Panthers also are looking at Brenton Bersin for Brown’s role, although Bersin doesn’t have elite speed. They also could try to find way to get first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin deep.

But Hill is intriguing. He has 45 NFL catches for four touchdowns. There were times during his tenure that he showed flashes, but his reputation for dropping passes also made headlines.

Will Hill finally be called up?

Stay tuned.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tuesday's decision to cut Jason Avant wasn't some knee-jerk reaction to the veteran wide receiver suggesting the Carolina Panthers could have been more aggressive with the play calling in the final minutes of Sunday's 19-17 loss.

It was a reaction to opponents for weeks playing man-to-man defense without fear of receivers getting separation.

It was a reaction to get more speed on the field with undrafted rookie free agent Philly Brown -- as well as Brenton Bersin and De'Andre Presley.

And this wasn't something that became evident on Sunday when Brown got deep for a 47-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

This has been building since the Pittsburgh game in Week 3. With Jerricho Cotchery sidelined with a hamstring injury, Brown caught seven passes for 66 yards.

Avant had two catches for 12 yards in that game.

Brown followed that up with two catches for 35 yards in a Week 4 loss at Baltimore despite being on the field for only 12 plays. Avant had two catches for 24 yards and was on the field for 41 plays.

The Panthers may have cut Avant sooner, but Brown suffered a concussion during a Week 7 loss at Green Bay and wasn't able to play in the next three games.

His touchdown against Atlanta was a signal the former Ohio State star was ready to contribute again.

[+] EnlargeJason Avant
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneNine-year veteran receiver Jason Avant failed to create separation in his 11 games as a Panther.
That Avant didn't have a catch in 34 plays and Brown had a big one in 16 likely sealed it.

"When you have veteran guys who play a lot in front of younger guys that have potential, sometimes you stunt their growth," coach Ron Rivera said Tuesday after letting players go for a bye-week break.

Brown not only can play wide receiver, he can return kicks. While still an adventure at times, that's more than Avant offered.

So was it a mistake signing the 31-year-old Avant as a free agent out of Philadelphia? Not at the time. The Panthers needed to add veteran leaders after releasing all-time leading receiver Steve Smith and losing their next three wide receivers in free agency.

They went with Avant and Cotchery.

Did they realize neither was a speedster? Yes. They were counting on somebody to emerge out of free-agent signee Tiquan Underwood, Tavarres King and Marvin McNutt.

None panned out.

Brown emerged late as that guy, but because he spent so much time behind the others throughout offseason workouts and training camp he wasn't ready to step into a significant role when the season began.

The Panthers believe he is now. They believe his speed brings to the offense what Ted Ginn Jr., who signed with Arizona during the offseason, did last season.

Brown gives the receiving corps more flexibility than Avant, who had only 21 catches for 201 yards in 11 games.

They need him to be dynamic, a word Rivera has used often to describe him, if they're going to make a run at Atlanta (4-6) and New Orleans (4-6) for the NFC South title.

"Probably one of the things that was really illustrated in the Philadelphia game was as much man coverage as we got," Rivera said. "And then going into [the Atlanta] game and seeing how much man coverage you get, that's tough. It changes what you're trying to do because of what they're doing.

"So now Sunday, watching the game and watching them trying to play man coverage and watching Philly run by or get open, now all of a sudden it's, 'Hey guys, this is what we've got to start doing.'"
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Wide receiver Philly Brown has been cleared to return from a concussion, but that doesn’t mean he will return to his job as the lead punt and kickoff returner for the Carolina Panthers in Monday night’s game at Philadelphia.

Coach Ron Rivera said Friday that Brown’s status as a returner depends on whether he’s prepared to be a part of the offensive game plan as well.

Because Brown wasn’t cleared to practice full until Friday, others have spent the week returning kicks.

Rivera said Brenton Bersin, who has returned kicks in Brown’s absence, has done a “nice job." Bersin had a 49-yard kickoff return against Seattle and a 31-yarder against New Orleans.

From an injury standpoint, the Panthers are as healthy as they have been all season. The only two players expected to miss Monday’s game are nickel cornerback Bene' Benwikere (ankle) and guard Trai Turner (knee).

Left tackle Byron Bell (knee) and left guard Amini Silatolu (calf) have practiced all week and are set to start. Both missed last Thursday’s 28-10 loss to New Orleans.

“Byron has looked good," Rivera said. “He really has. I’m excited about that."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Kelvin Benjamin continues to progress through the concussion protocol, leaving the Carolina Panthers hopeful the rookie wide receiver will play in Sunday’s game at Green Bay.

 Benjamin did not participate in Thursday’s practice, but was back on the field after being a no-show on Wednesday.

The 28th pick of the draft suffered the concussion on a second-quarter hit from Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict. He passed a sideline concussion test and finished the game, but complained of a headache when he arrived at the stadium on Monday.

“He continues in the protocol,’’ coach Ron Rivera said. “He did very well with the independent [doctor on Wednesday], and then today he did the next step with our guys and seemed to be doing very well.

“We’ll see how he’s doing tomorrow. Hopefully, he passes. If he does, great.’’

Several players expressed optimism that Benjamin, whose 31 receptions leads Carolina wide receivers, would play. If not, Brenton Bersin and Philly Brown would replace him in the rotation.

“It would be considerable, in light of who he is for us,’’ Rivera said of what it would mean to lose Benjamin for a game. “I will say I really do believe the other guys have stepped up and played well.

“With the quarterback [Cam Newton] back playing the way he’s capable and being healthy, relatively healthy, I feel good about what we can do offensively.’’

Running back Jonathan Stewart practiced full for the second straight day after missing the past three games with a knee injury. Rivera remains optimistic that Stewart will start against Green Bay.

With Fozzy Whittaker (quad) and Darrin Reaves (calf) missing Thursday’s practice, Rivera said the rotation on Sunday would be Stewart, Chris Ogbonnaya and whoever is healthy.

“Looked very good and still very confident in him,’’ Rivera said of Stewart. “He had a really nice practice. He took an increased amount of reps, so we’re feeling pretty confident now.’’

Rivera remained in a “we’ll see’’ mode on cornerback Josh Norman, who missed the Cincinnati game with a concussion and has practiced on a limited basis this week.

Linebacker Chase Blackburn, who missed his second straight practice, said the knee he injured on Sunday is improving. Rivera expressed concern on Wednesday that Blackburn may miss a few games.

Left guard Amini Silatolu (calif) and nickel cornerback Bene’ Benwikere (ankle) are not expected to play.

Panthers continue to seek help at WR

September, 1, 2014
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers continue to explore options at wide receiver, working out Stephen Hill and Kadron Boone on Monday.

Coach Ron Rivera said neither were expected to be signed on Monday, but didn't rule out that happening in the future.

Hill, a second-round pick by the New York Jets in 2012, was released on Saturday. The former Georgia Tech star has 45 career catches for 594 yards and four touchdowns.

Boone was released by the Eagles after being signed as an undrafted rookie out of LSU.

The Panthers kept five receivers -- Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, Brenton Bersin and Philly Brown -- on their 53-man roster after losing their top four from last season.

Brown made the roster as a receiver/kick returner, but his tendency to drop the ball has to be concerning despite the confidence the staff has shown in him.

Rivera said Carolina will continue to look at all positions where the team might get an upgrade.

"You gotta look at guys and see how they fit you and see if there is potential there," he said. "We have a ready list, guys we want to sign in case we get into an emergency situation."

Panthers Camp Report: Day 14

August, 11, 2014
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SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Carolina Panthers training camp from Wofford College:
  • Twenty years ago, for Carolina's inaugural trip to Wofford College for camp, there were 10 consecutive days when the temperature topped 100 degrees. It was an issue. This year it's the lack of heat that concerns coach Ron Rivera. He would have liked a few more hot, humid days to prepare Carolina for what it will face in the opener at Tampa Bay. Many days have been in the 70s. One practice was so cool that Rivera had to wear a jacket. So when the humidity rose toward the end of Monday's practice, you could see players wear down and the intensity decline. Rivera spent longer than normal talking to the team afterwards, reminding "you've got to fight it because that's probably what we're going to face when we go to Tampa Bay.''
  • Tight end/fullback Richie Brockel demonstrated why he will make the final roster during one-on-one drills with the linebackers. First he handled outside linebacker Thomas Davis and then he held his own against linebacker Chase Blackburn. Rivera said Brockel demonstrates the kind of toughness he wants to see from all his players. "It transfers to the rest of the team,'' he said. Brockel jokingly said he volunteered to play defense.
  • Rivera says he hasn't settled on a starting offensive line, but it appears set with Byron Bell at left tackle, Amini Silatolu at left guard, Ryan Kalil at center, Trai Turner at right guard and Nate Chandler at right tackle. The position of most concern entering camp was left tackle. Bell started the preseason opener and was there again for Monday's practice in full pads. He left at one point with a minor issue with patella tendinitis, but Rivera insisted that won't keep him out of a game. Garry Williams finished at left tackle and likely will give relief to both tackles when the season begins.
  • Undrafted rookie running back Darrin Reaves left practice with a knee injury and likely will be held out the next few days. He's impressed with his toughness and hard-nosed running, in some ways more than Kenjon Barner. Also out were defensive end Charles Johnson (hamstring), defensive end Mario Addison (flu), defensive end Kony Ealy (foot) and offensive lineman Derek Dennis (flu).
  • Wide receivers Tiquan Underwood, Brenton Bersin and Tavarres King began one segment of team drills so the coaches could get an idea of what they can do with quarterback Cam Newton. The staff is looking for a few receivers to consistently step up after the top three of Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant. Underwood, signed as a free agent, looked good with a catch on the first play. Then he dropped the second pass that hit him in the numbers. If you were setting the 53-man roster today, he'd be around 54 or 55.
  • The Panthers practice at 9:25 a.m. ET on Tuesday, the final session of camp in Spartanburg before returning to Charlotte, N.C., for the rest of the preseason.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- "Smoo" or "Schmoo" or whatever Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton called rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin after Friday night's amazing catch, it's a keeper.

Think about it. Every time Benjamin makes a big catch the crowd can shout "Smoooooooooo" or "Schmooooooo." It will sound like a boo just like it does when the crowd screams "Luuuuuuuuuu-ke'' when middle linebacker Luke Kuechly makes a big play.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Benjamin
AP Photo/Mike McCarnKelvin Benjamin showed the ability to make key catches on Friday.
And if Friday night and training camp are good indicators, Benjamin will make plenty of big catches.

If you missed the one in the 20-18 preseason loss to the Buffalo Bills, the former Florida State standout stepped on the heel of cornerback Stephon Gilmore as he approached the goal line, stumbled to the ground, gathered himself and sprawled his 6-foot-5, 240-pound body out as he went to the ground for the catch.

"Smooooooooooo!!!"

"Schmooooooooo!!!"

We may never know what "Smoo" or "Schmoo" means. Benjamin has no idea and Newton says "the world may never know."

When pressed if perhaps it could be short for "Smooooooth," Newton replied to the reporter, "Mr. Newton, you are too impatient."

No arguments here.

Regardless, "Smoo" or "Schmoo" is a keeper.

Here are a few other leftover thoughts from Carolina's preseason opener:
  • Third-string quarterback Joe Webb did about everything the Panthers imagined when they signed him to imitate starter Cam Newton. He completed 16 of 28 pass attempts for 180 yards and a touchdown. He led the team in rushing with 30 yards on four carries. Unfortunately, when all is said and done I just don't see the Panthers keeping three quarterbacks even though coach Ron Rivera says it's a possibility.
  • With Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant locks at wide receiver, the other two or three spots remain up for grabs. Tavarres King helped his stock with four catches for 50 yards. He had another long reception negated by a holding call. Undrafted rookie Philly Brown caught three passes for 23 yards. Marcus Lucas had a costly drop. Brenton Bersin, who has impressed in camp, was targeted four times but caught only one pass for 19 yards. Stay tuned.
  • Tight end Brandon Williams deserves a spot on the final roster. The former college basketball player has been impressive in camp, and he backed that up with three catches for 50 yards and a touchdown against Buffalo.
  • Cornerback Josh Norman continues to be a training camp phenom. The former Coastal Carolina star, who had four interceptions during one practice in 2012 and led the Panthers in picks during the 2013 preseason, had another in the end zone against Buffalo to draw praise from Rivera.
  • How valuable is kicker Graham Gano, who did not play with a sore lower back? His replacement, Jordan Gay, missed the first extra point from 33 yards. That forced Carolina to go for two after its next two touchdowns. Had Gano played and made the first, Carolina kicks the last two and wins 21-20.
  • Newton didn't get the "official" word he was being held out until he was getting treatment before kickoff even though Rivera and company never had serious plans to play him. As I said on Friday, it was the right call. No need to rush him back until he's turned fully loose to run in practice, which should be soon. "It's not how I felt, it's about my progression," Newton said. "It's a plan that's in place for me to be back there. Do I want to be out there? Absolutely I do. But have to be smart. Have to be coachable, too."
  • Sunday's 6:10 p.m. ET practice at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., has been moved to 3:10 p.m. The 3:10 p.m. Monday and Tuesday practices will be moved to 9:25 a.m. as the Panthers wrap up camp.
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.

Panthers Camp Report: Day 6

July, 31, 2014
7/31/14
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SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Carolina Panthers training camp:
  • Cam Newton overthrows a pass off the outreached fingertips of wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. Newton throws a pass high and wide to tight end Greg Olsen. Newton throws high again. Yes, the franchise quarterback struggled early on this rainy Thursday morning. It had nothing to do with his left ankle, on which he underwent surgery in March. Asked if the weather had anything to do with it, coach Ron Rivera emphatically and sternly said, "No.'' But the struggles were noticeable, enough that the Panthers ran a couple of segments again. "He was perfect," Rivera said of Newton the second time around. "Once he got into his rhythm, he practiced very well down the stretch." Newton was especially impressive on his final two-minute drills -- or 1:30, as the Panthers like to go with -- finishing a drive with a touchdown pass over the middle to Cotchery. Newton also was more active in talking to his wide receivers and tight ends about what they were doing as it related to him.
  • With first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin (bruised left knee) out another day, former Wofford standout Brenton Bersin opened as the first-string slot receiver when the Panthers opened in team drills. Normally, Jason Avant or Cotchery line up there with Benjamin on the field. Bersin's presence shows just how far he has come from an undrafted free agent cut early in 2012 to making the practice squad a year ago. Rivera said Bersin could help the team and he wants to see how he does against the first-team defense. Tavarres King also had a good day of practice. Three straight, according to Rivera, as the Panthers look to rebuild at receiver. Meanwhile, Benjamin's rehab is coming along nicely from his knee injury. There's still no timetable for his return, only that he will be re-evaluated before Friday's practice. He is not expected to miss next week's preseason opener against Buffalo.
  • With left tackle Jordan Gross retired, the Panthers are looking for more leadership out of center Ryan Kalil. Rivera has been impressed with the way the four-time Pro Bowl selection has been more vocal in camp. Kalil admits he doesn't like speaking to groups as much as Gross did, but there's no doubt his leadership up front will be key to how this rebuilt line performs.
  • The Panthers practiced kickoff returns for the first time in camp. Wide receiver Tiquan Underwood and fullback Mike Tolbert were the first pair deep. The speedy Underwood was signed as a free agent wide receiver, but he hasn't done anything particularly noteworthy there. His best way to secure a roster spot might be as a return specialist. Tolbert's primary role on kickoffs is supposed to be as a blocker, but a couple of times, the 2013 Pro Bowl selection lined up as the primary returner. Rivera quickly reminded the player known as "Fat Guy" -- among other things -- that he should return kicks only in "emergency" situations.
  • Outside linebacker Thomas Davis looked like he was searching for a contact early in practice as he and several trainers scoured the field. He actually lost a diamond earring. He stayed afterward looking for it, but no luck. Davis wasn't as much concerned with the earring as he was having to file an insurance claim on it. Maybe it will show up later, as his lost wedding ring once did.
  • The Panthers practice at 9:25 a.m. again on Friday. The forecast is for more rain.
Carolina Panthers wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl has told me more than once not to overlook Brenton Bersin. Head coach Ron Rivera last week mentioned the second-year receiver out of Wofford as a player to keep an eye on.

Why?

[+] EnlargeBrenton Bersin
AP Photo/Chris KeaneIn 2010, Brenton Bersin tied Wofford's record for touchdown catches in a season. The record was set by Panthers owner Jerry Richardson.
"He's got some ability,'' Rivera said. "Some guys take a little time. The tough thing is he came from Wofford and they are notorious for being a tremendous running team. He blocks very, very well. We know he can block.

"He's just got to learn how to do the routes. He's doing a great job, so I believe he's going to be one of the guys that competes there.''

If you need to know more about Bersin, let me help. He's 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds. The long blond hair that flows out of the back of his helmet makes him stand out even when he's not catching passes.

The Panthers signed Bersin as an undrafted free agent in 2012. He was waived during training camp, but re-signed the following May. He was waived again in training camp, but then re-signed to the practice squad where he remained the rest of the season.

In January, he was signed to the regular roster.

As Rivera said, Wofford is notorious for being a running team. But when the Terriers threw in 2010 and 2011, Bersin was the top target more often than not.

He led the team with 32 catches for 703 yards in 2010. He also tied the school single-season record for receiving touchdowns with nine. The person he tied, by the way, was Carolina owner Jerry Richardson, who had nine touchdown catches in 1958.

Bersin led Wofford with 26 catches for 230 yards and two touchdowns in 2011. He finished with 15 career touchdown catches, tied for the third most in school history -- more evidence the Terriers are a running team because the number is so low.

Bersin is a long way from making the 53-man roster, but at least he's in the mix among Marvin McNutt, Tavarres King and others in the group off 11 wide receivers competing during organized team activities.

He's not a threat for one of the top four spots that belong to free agent acquisitions Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood, and first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin.

But after those four there are no guarantees, and the Panthers are giving all the young receivers a chance to make an impression judging from the amount of repetitions they are getting.

That Bersin can block gives him an edge because the Panthers want to be a ball-control team, and that takes receivers who can block.

“One thing we’re trying to make sure is everybody’s getting a lot of reps right now,'' Rivera said. "Because when we get to training camp, we want to make sure everybody’s up to speed. We’ve made an emphasis that we’re rotating a lot of players, as much as possible.''

So if you're looking for a darkhorse at wide receiver, don't forget Bersin.
Olindo Mare, who received a huge contract from the Carolina Panthers last year, won’t be handling the kickoff duties for the team this year.

The Panthers announced Monday that Mare has been released. Presumably, that means former Canadian League player Justin Medlock has won what was a competition for Carolina’s kicking job throughout the preseason.

Mare’s signing last year caused controversy because the Panthers released John Kasay, the final remaining player from their 1995 expansion team, to make room for Mare. The thinking was that Mare was as accurate as Kasay and could also handle kickoff duties. But Mare had a disappointing 2011 season and missed some crucial field-goal attempts. The Panthers brought Medlock in as competition and decided to let Mare go.

Although the Panthers gave Mare a four-year, $12 million contract last year, the salary-cap implications of his release are minimal. Mare was scheduled to count $3.2 million against this year’s salary cap. By releasing him, the Panthers still will be responsible for $3.1 million.

The kicker job isn’t the only area where the Panthers are going in a younger direction. They also released veteran Nick Harris. That means the Panthers are ready to go with rookie Brad Nortman as their punter. The Panthers drafted Nortman in the sixth round. They brought in Harris to compete with him and Nortman won the job.

As Carolina trimmed its roster to 75 players, there were several other moves of note.

Receiver David Gettis, who missed last season with a knee injury, has been placed on the physically unable to perform list. Gettis, who had been considered a candidate to start, wasn’t able to get healthy enough during the preseason. By going on PUP, Gettis now can be activated after six games. The Panthers also placed cornerback Brandon Hogan on the reserve/injured list. Hogan had been considered a candidate for significant playing time, but he also was slow in recovering from a knee issue. In the next five days, it will be decided if Hogan will take an injury settlement, be placed on injured reserve for the entire season or be released.

The Panthers also waived receiver Darvin Adams, guard Roger Allen, receiver Michael Avila, receiver Brenton Bersin, guard Will Blackwell, defensive end Eric Norwood, running back Lyndon Rowells, tight end Greg Smith, running back Josh Vaughan and receiver Rico Wallace.

NFC South afternoon update

August, 16, 2012
8/16/12
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We’re still a few hours away from the Atlanta Falcons’ preseason game with the Cincinnati Bengals, so let’s take a run through some headlines from around the rest of the division:
  • Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, who attempted just six passes in the exhibition opener, will get extended playing time in Friday night’s preseason game with Miami. Coach Ron Rivera said Newton and the other starters are expected to play the first half.
  • Rookie hazing has kind of eased up in the NFL in recent years. But veterans can still have some fun with rookies. A good example of that came when some veteran Panthers had a little fun with a Jeep owned by rookie receiver Brenton Bersin.
  • Veteran tight end Daniel Graham said he only wanted to play this season if it was with a championship contender. When the New Orleans Saints called, he pounced on the offer. You can’t question that one. Even with all the adversity the Saints have faced this offseason, they still have enough roster on their talent to be one of the league’s top teams.
  • Three of Tampa Bay’s rookies reflect on their first training camp. That stretch is over, but they still know there’s a lot of work to be done between now and the start of the regular season and the routine isn’t going to change all that much.

Around the NFC South

August, 6, 2012
8/06/12
8:56
AM ET
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- I’m getting ready to head out to watch the Carolina Panthers go through their morning walk-through session, and then I'll do some interviews. But first, let’s take a run through the headlines from around the NFC South.

ATLANTA FALCONS

There has been a lot of talk about how the Falcons plan to reduce the number of carries for running back Michael Turner. That’s fine with Turner, as long as the reduction isn’t too substantial. I don’t think it will be. I don’t see Turner getting chopped to 10 carries a game. I just don’t see him averaging more than 20 carries a game as he has in past seasons. I think the Falcons are serious about getting Jacquizz Rodgers more playing time, but I think Turner still will get at least 15 carries per game. The whole reason behind this plan is to keep Turner fresh late in the season and into the postseason.

The Falcons will hold a joint workout with the Tennessee Titans on Monday. The last time these teams worked out together was 2004, and that session spawned a series of fights that led to several injuries, including a strained hamstring for former Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. I wouldn’t look for things to be as heated. Atlanta coach Mike Smith runs a calm, but firm ship, and nobody ever said that about Jim Mora Jr., who was coaching the Falcons in 2004.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Ron Green Jr. has an in-depth profile of Carolina rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly. It includes a great anecdote about Kuechly having dinner with quarterback Cam Newton and NBA legend Michael Jordan on his first night in Charlotte after being drafted by the Panthers.

The only current Carolina player that was at the franchise’s inaugural game in 1995 is undrafted rookie receiver Brenton Bersin. He was 5 at the time and was sitting in the stands. Bersin also grew up as a neighbor of Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, and played at Richardson’s alma mater. That’s Wofford College, where the Panthers hold training camp.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Jeff Duncan writes that you shouldn’t draw too many conclusions from the Saints’ victory against Arizona in the Hall of Fame Game, but the important thing is the team got back to playing football after a turbulent offseason. He’s right. Preseason games mean very little, but just getting back on the field was a major step as the Saints try to move forward.

New Orleans wide receiver Adrian Arrington has a knee injury and will visit a specialist. It’s not yet clear if Arrington will require surgery. If it does, that could increase the chances of a young receiver, such as Joseph Morgan or Andy Tanner, claiming a roster spot.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Stephen Holder has a list of guys that have surprised so far in training camp. This isn’t the typical list of long shots that are making a bid for a roster spot, because it starts off with veteran tight end Dallas Clark. But Clark’s performance so far has been a surprise. After a lot of injury problems in Indianapolis in recent years, Clark appears to be totally healthy, and has yet to miss a practice.

Roy Cummings has a feature story on safety Cody Grimm, a former starter who could be on the roster bubble. Ronde Barber and rookie Mark Barron have been getting the first-team work, and Ahmad Black and Larry Asante have been running with the second team. But Grimm was held back in the offseason program as he recovered from injury and just now is getting back to full health. Grimm might need a strong showing in the preseason to land a roster spot. But I wouldn’t count this guy out, because he’s been surprising people since the moment he entered the league.

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