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Camp Countdown: Returners

Posted Jul 27, 2009

Wide receiver Ryne Robinson. (PHOTO: ANDREW MASON / PANTHERS.COM)

CHARLOTTE -- When Mark Jones signed with the Tennessee Titans in free agency, he took 77.5 percent of the Panthers' returns and 76.8 percent of their return yardage with him.

As valuable as Jones was to Carolina's kickoff and punt returns last year, he was nonetheless the third option for that work, not joining the team until after Ryne Robinson and Jason Carter had succumbed to knee injuries that would sideline them for the entire regular season.

Robinson was set to return punts and was in the mix on kickoffs after handling both duties as a rookie in 2007, but a knee injury incurred five days into training camp would prove to be the end of his season. He attempt to come back in practice nearly two months later, but it was to no avail.

"I was away for what seemed like a really long time," said Robinson, who missed some early summer-school sessions with "a little aggravation" in the knee, but was moving at full speed shortly thereafter. "I'm just glad they haven't forgotten about me and are giving me a chance to play again."

After Robinson's training-camp injury last July, Carter handled punts and kickoffs, and was averaging 20.4 yards per kickoff and 7.4 yards per punt before he succumbed to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the fourth quarter of the third preseason game. That derailed what had been a promising summer in which he'd emerged as one of the Panthers' most consistent passing-game playmakers in practice.


Jason Carter moved smoothly around the field during OTAs. (PHOTO: ANDREW MASON / PANTHERS.COM)

"My goal is just to go back and do what I did last year, but to be better," Carter said in June. "I'm starting to get back to where I was last year."

Carter didn't miss a day of organized team activities. The most tangible evidence of his recovery was in the presence of a knee brace -- or the lack thereof as the sessions progressed.

"The first couple of days I wanted to see how it felt with a brace, and it kind of held me back," he said. "Then I went without the brace and it felt good. Now I just put a sleeve on it to keep it warm. I could go out there without the sleeve."


Mike Goodson scoots into the open field. (PHOTO: ANDREW MASON / PANTHERS.COM)

There are no such injury concerns for fourth-round selection Mike Goodson, whose raw speed dazzled onlookers at OTAs. He will likely receive a lengthy glance on kickoff returns, which could give him his first, best chance to help the team as a rookie.

"I didn't do much (returning) in college but I like it," he said. "I'm really just excited about the whole opportunity to get back there and makes some people miss and make some big plays."

Goodson is only one of the lesser-known commodities on Carolina's roster who saw some work on kickoff and punt returns at summer school. Rookies Jason Chery and Captain Munnerlyn have backgrounds as returners, while second-year wide receiver Kenneth Moore -- who was on the 53-man roster last year but didn't see any game action -- could find himself in the mix on punt returns.

Perhaps the most statistically intriguing candidate on the roster is undrafted wide receiver Larry Beavers, who set the NCAA's all-time record for combined kick return touchdowns during a dazzling career at Division III Wesley College in Delaware. His numbers as a senior last fall were stunning: eight touchdowns on 30 total returns, a 39.5-yard average on kickoffs and a 29.2-yard average on punts.

"The numbers don't lie at all," he said with a smile during OTAs.

But what Beavers and his fellow returners will learn in Spartanburg is that the intensity will be as high as the temperature with each time one of them steps back to field a kickoff or punt.

"It's pressure, because you want to prove to the coaches that you can play and deserve a spot on the roster," Moore said. "But you definitely don't want to put too much pressure on yourself, because you'll start messing up. You just want to relax, do what you can do and show what you can do."