CHARLOTTE -- It was not the way it always had been, but seemingly as it was meant to be.
Steve Smith on one side.
Once more, they were among the most electric couplings in football. Their abilities complement each other perfectly, just as they did when they teamed up as the starting tandem through the majority of the 2002 and 2003 campaigns.
What Muhammad and Smith can do, the Panthers know well; it was essential to their 12-4 season last year and will likely be just as vital as they attempt to take the final steps to the club's first world championship. However, a central figure of the receiving corps during training camp could be third-year wideout
Year three is often where a young pro's road forks. But there are indications that he will head down the path toward long-term success; his promise manifested itself in his limited opportunties last year, as six of his 10 receptions came on third downs and another allowed for a successful fourth-and-6 conversion.
"There were flashes," quarterback
Added head coach John Fox: "He's a young player that, hopefully, makes great leaps and bounds this year. I saw some progress last year and anticipate seeing one more year of growth again this year."
Last year, he was dueling with free-agent signee D.J. Hackett for playing time behind Smith and Muhammad. This year, with Hackett released, the No. 3 slot is in his hands -- and perhaps more opportunties await if he proves worthy of them and can deliver on his potential.
"I don't think there's any doubt," said Delhomme, who sees an allegory for Jarrett in one of last year's stars.
"I think a prime example for him would be someone like DeAngelo (Williams). DeAngelo was a first-round pick for us and for a couple of years, the '06 season, he was playing a little bit, then had a high ankle sprain against Cleveland. So he's going into his third year (in 2008), and then we draft Stewie (Joanthan Stewart) in the first round, so obviously outside this place, there were questions about whether DeAngelo was the guy. Well, that wasn't it. You need as many good players as you can and certainly he came on as the season progressed.
"I have high hopes, I really do. If I didn't have high hopes for (Jarrett), I wouldn't be hard on him. I think I was the same way with DeAngelo. ... (Jarrett) can really and truly help us, and I expect him to help us."
But Jarrett knows he must improve to be of stellar use.
"You always try to get better every year," Jarrett said. "Each year you try to redeem yourself and get better. The NFL is what have you done for me lately, so you have to keep working at it."
WHILE JARRETT'S PROGRESS WILL BE WORTH MONITORING in Spartanburg, the most heated competition should come from a collection of young receivers grappling for roster spots in a scrum that could come down as much to special-teams value as receiving proficiency.
Robinson returned to the field for organized team activities, taking part in half of the practices as he completed his recovery from injury.
"I think he's ready," Smith said. "He's done it in offseason conditioning. He's coming out here and he's practicing hard."
Carter's premature end was more decisive; a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the preseason win over Washington wiped out what appeared to be a promising year.
"(Carter) could definitely be an impact player," Muhammad said.
Ironically, it was Carter who took over at punt returner when Robinson succumbed. Eventually the Panthers signed ex-Buccaneers and Chargers wideout Mark Jones to handle return duties and to be the team's fourth receiver, but he joined the Tennessee Titans in free agency, opening up the competition to Carter and Robinson.
"It's pressure, because you want to prove to the coaches that you can play and deserve a spot on the roster," he said. "But you definitely don't want to put too much pressure on you, because you'll start messing up."
That mentality will also come in handy for
Because of the playmaking nature of their position, you might become familiar with those names in the coming weeks as we chronicle the big plays and playmakers of training camp. But it will take more than just the occasional acrobatic reception for any of the team's wideouts to find a home with the Panthers for the season to come.