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Edwards, Ginn in surprisingly similar spot

Posted Jul 28, 2013

"I told him he's going to get his chance. He's going to get more opportunities to showcase what he can do."

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – First-year wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl could easily have been talking about Ted Ginn when he made the above statement.

One problem: Ginn wasn't yet a Panther.

So exactly who was Proehl discussing?

None other than Armanti Edwards.

At first glance, Ginn and Edwards seem to have little in common. Ginn was the No. 9 overall selection in the 2007 NFL Draft, a proven receiver and returner from college football powerhouse Ohio State. Edwards was the No. 89 choice in the 2010 NFL Draft, a shifty quarterback from Football Championship Subdivision school Appalachian State whom the Panthers drafted with the idea of converting him into a receiver and returner.

But flash forward to the present, and the two have quite a bit in common. The 5-11, 185-pound Ginn, now with his third NFL team, is coming off a season in which he continued to excel as a returner but caught just two passes for 1 yard. The 5-11, 190-pound Edwards, now considered a veteran on the Panthers offense, is coming off a season in which be showed signs of excelling as a returner and recorded his first five career receptions.

There's little doubt that Edwards is learning more about the return game from Ginn. And Ginn said Sunday that he is learning the Panthers offense with help from Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Edwards.

"It feels good when other people are asking you questions and you get to help them out," Edwards said. "Last year I was comfortable, but at the same time I still had to think. Right now, it just feels natural.

"I feel like a receiver."

Ginn came to Carolina hoping to again feel like a receiver. He did whatever was asked of him for San Francisco last season, and that unselfish approach – and his latest in a long line of strong seasons as a returner – helped the 49ers advance to the Super Bowl.

Ginn plans to take the same team-first approach in Carolina, but the Panthers were the first team on his list when he became an unrestricted free agent because of their approach to him.

"A lot of people see me as just a returner, but they were like, ‘Just come in and show us what you've got, and we'll provide for you any way we can,' " said Ginn, moments after making a multitude of catches in Sunday's training camp practice. "That's what I'm doing. I'm just showing what I have and just trying to help my receiver group and my quarterback."

One thing decidedly different about Ginn and Edwards is that Ginn has prospered as an NFL receiver before. He averaged 43 receptions during his first three seasons with the Miami Dolphins before catching a total of 33 passes in three seasons with San Francisco.

But the man once believed capable of making the U.S. Olympic track team could get a chance in Carolina to display his speed in more than just the return game.

"There's a place for that kind of ability, and we're going to maximize it," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "The biggest thing is he has the ability to blow the top off of defenses. We've got to use him in the right situations, but it's not just about him going vertical. It's about getting the ball in his hands and letting him use his feet and athleticism."

While Ginn has struggled at times throughout his career with being consistent enough with his hands to warrant a consistent role at receiver, Edwards has struggled with every aspect of playing receiver at one time or another.

It's certainly understandable given that Edwards entered the NFL with zero experience as a pass catcher.

"I know how hard it's been for him. It's a tough transition," Proehl said. "You don't just go from quarterback to receiver and have instant success. It's hard.

"It's a confidence thing. His confidence is building and with the trust I feel he has in me, if we give him an opportunity, he has a chance to really shine and show people that he can play at this level. This is the year for him."

Edwards certainly hopes so.

He spent his entire rookie year working his way up from Square One, seeing the field in a very limited capacity. Edwards lined up at quarterback in the Wildcat formation a couple of times, completing one pass for zero yards. He returned two punts, for zero yards.

His role expanded in 2011, but only in a Ginn-like way. Edwards served as the Panthers' primary punt returner - yet another role he had no experience with prior to the NFL – and recorded a modest 5.5-yard average. Again, he didn't make a catch.

Last season, however, the soft-spoken Edwards made some noise. He got some opportunities on the punt and kickoff teams, capping the year with a 69-yard punt return at New Orleans. And more notably, he finally made a dent on offense, hauling in five passes for 121 yards, including an 82-yarder at Washington.

Edwards has always been honest about the daunting nature of his position shift. This year at training camp, he can honestly say he's turned the corner.

"I've been in this offensive system three years, so I know it inside out," Edwards said. "It feels much better than coming in not knowing what you're doing. It feels better to come in feeling more comfortable."

At the same time, both Edwards and Ginn understand that they can't afford to feel comfortable when it comes to counting on a role in the offense this season. The battle for roster spots – let alone playing time – is intense at wide receiver, but the tandem still trying to find their way believes that they'll somehow find a way.

"There will come a time when we all need each other," Ginn said. "As long as you're there when that time comes, that's what you call being teammates. That's what you call chemistry.

"We're just going to go out and continue to play hard, and I'm not going to say the best man will win. The best group will win. We're trying to be the best group."