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Proehl leading remodeled receiving corps

Posted Jun 2, 2014

CHARLOTTE – The picture above says a lot about Ricky Proehl's offseason.

When it began, the Panthers wide receivers coach watched his position group undergo a massive overhaul – his top four receivers gone to new teams. That prompted him to travel coast to coast with the intention of finding the next great pass-catcher for Carolina.

Then, during a rookie minicamp practice, he stood in awe as 6-foot-5, 241-pound rookie Kelvin Benjamin rose up and snatched an overthrown ball out of the air with his 10-inch hands. The bright future Proehl envisioned was on full display.

"To look at that picture, it's what I saw during our pre-draft workout," Proehl said. "And now he's doing it in our back yard. And everyone can see it.

"For me, it was like being a proud dad. It was just amazing."



One by one, they found new homes. Brandon LaFell signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Patriots. Ted Ginn Jr. signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Cardinals. Domenik Hixon signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Bears. And of course, Carolina's all-time leading receiver and Proehl's close friend, Steve Smith, signed with the Ravens after the Panthers released him.

What was going on in Proehl's mind as they all left?

"Being in this business as long as I have ..."

Proehl understood. The Panthers were ready for change at wide receiver.

"As a coach and former player, you're happy, you're happy for them because they had success and went and got paid," Proehl said. "My job is to get them better and utilize their strengths to help our offense. They all made plays. It's kind of a catch-22.

"You hope as a coach that you can re-sign these guys, and the good thing is they all wanted to come back. That's where the financials come into play. You can't bring everybody back. It didn't work out, and we couldn't sign them."

When the dust settled, Toney Clemons and Kealoha Pilares were the only receivers on the roster who had recorded a catch in the NFL.

It was no secret – the Panthers were going to address the wide receiver position early in the 2014 NFL Draft.

And if you followed Proehl on Twitter, you knew where the Panthers were beginning to look.



Oregon State, Southern California, Fresno State, Wyoming, Ball State, Indiana, Vanderbilt, Coastal Carolina, Louisiana State and Florida State – Proehl visited them all.

"It was the most talented draft group from a receiver standpoint in, shoot, the last ten years," Proehl said.

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He racked up the miles and documented his scouting trips via social media. He was alone during most trips. Occasionally he was joined by offensive coordinator Mike Shula or director of college scouting Don Gregory.

"I loved that responsibility. I loved that they allowed me to do that," Proehl said. "Ultimately, (general manager) Dave Gettleman is going to make the decision, but I loved the fact that he wanted my input."

Proehl ran drills with the receivers and studied their routes, but the primary function of the campus visits was to get to know them on a more personal level.

"Ultimately, you want great players, but you want great people that love the game and love to compete," Proehl said. "That's what traveling does. You understand who they are and what they want to accomplish. Those are things you don't see from watching film."

When he went to Florida State, Proehl saw what he needed to see.



Kelvin Benjamin makes a good first impression.

"I was in awe of his size, obviously, and his ability to catch the ball – it is just second nature," Proehl said, thinking back to the workout in Tallahassee. "Ball is behind him, ball is low, ball is high – he's just like a vacuum. Snatched it and didn't even think about it. The ball disappears in his hands. He's got a huge catch radius. Just put it in the general area and he's going to make a play.

"As far as having a concept of what we do with the routes that we run, he fits in perfect for a lot the things that we do. That's what really excited me about him."

Benjamin's personality was a perfect fit as well.

"Kelvin is an unselfish player," Proehl said. "He won a national championship and when you win on any level, you realize that it takes other players to do their part. You have a role. He understands that. He's not coming in saying he's going to lead the team in catches. He just wants to win and do whatever he can to help. That's what I love about him."

The Panthers made their love for Benjamin public during round one of the draft, selecting him with the 28th overall pick.



Benjamin is the flashy new first-round pick but he's just a part – albeit a very large part – of the Panthers' new wide receiving corps.

He's joined by first-year Panthers Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood, veterans who all signed as free agents.

Additionally, there are young and largely unproven wide receivers like Brenton Bersin, Marvin McNutt, Tavarres King, De'Andre Presley and recently acquired undrafted free agents Philly Brown and Marcus Lucas.

The wide receiver turnover made for an eventful offseason, and it will make for an eventful training camp.

"This is a great opportunity. You are starting from scratch," Proehl said. "We lost everybody. We lost some great players. But the guys we have are capable. They all are hungry to prove that they belong. It's going to be a very competitive training camp. There's no set starter in that room. We've got 12 guys, and all of them are not going to make it. But everyone in the room is going to get an opportunity.

"The cream will rise to the top."