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Carolina Panthers

Austin Corbett ready for next step in "whirlwind" career

Austin Corbett

CHARLOTTE — The Panthers made it clear to guard Austin Corbett that they viewed him as a key part of their biggest offseason priority, when they agreed to a significant deal on the first day of free agency.

But Corbett can admit now, that there were times in his young career when he wasn't sure he was ready for that level of expectation.

After being drafted higher than many — including himself — thought he'd be in Cleveland, Corbett didn't succeed immediately in his first stop, but quickly reinvented himself in Los Angeles, and became a starter for the Super Bowl champions.

He's only 26, but it's already been quite a journey.

"It's been such a whirlwind, and to think it's been four years already is crazy," Corbett said during his first trip to Bank of America Stadium. "Looking back, I didn't see it at the time, but there was a lot of doubt in Cleveland. I was drafted high, and didn't really do anything with it. Then I got a new opportunity in Los Angeles. I've had a lot of time to reflect, and change who I wanted to be as a player and person and establish myself."

There's a reason Corbett didn't necessarily expect to be the 33rd overall choice in the 2017 NFL Draft.

He started at the University of Nevada as a walk-on, and has carried that mentality through his career. And since Reno isn't usually one of the hot spots in the pre-draft road show, it was a bit of a surprise when the Browns took him with the first pick in the second round that year.

Austin Corbett

He looked like a solid prospect (after shining at the Senior Bowl alongside then-roommate and now-teammate Bradley Bozeman), but Corbett even seemed a little surprised that he was deemed such a priority.

He didn't make an immediate impression, starting just one game in his first year and a half in Cleveland, before the Browns sent him to the Rams for a fifth-round pick — giving up on a significant investment.

"I always had the walk-on mentality anyway, that I didn't really belong here in the first place," Corbett admitted. "That's what I've tried to carry with me everywhere I've gone. No one expects anything from you, they're going to doubt you, and that's how I like to persevere through things. People don't want to believe in me; fine, I'll prove them wrong. So I've tried to carry that through. Whatever happened in Cleveland in that year and a half is in the past, we're here now, and excited to build on it."

To say he's a different player now is an understatement.

He immediately became an important part for the Rams, starting seven of the eight games he appeared in after coming over in the midseason trade, and then every game the following two seasons.

His former Rams and new Panthers teammate, punter Johnny Hekker, said Corbett didn't show any pressure he might have felt.

"I think our team did a good job of letting him know, you're coming here with a clean slate; this is a fresh start for you," Hekker said of the Rams. "No expectations here, we're excited to have you. We welcomed him in as family. That's what you want to do with anyone who comes in. You don't have to be anyone but yourself to be here and be a success.

"It's been awesome to see his progression, from a depth lineman to a starting guard for us. He really dominated, controlled the inside. And he's a good communicator, relaying messages from the center to the tackle. Good fundamentals, cares about what he does, he's just a guy young players can look up to and emulate and see how to be a pro's pro."

Austin Corbett

Corbett's quick to credit being around a number of veteran lineman in his short career, pointing to the impact Browns teammates Joel Bitonio, JC Tretter, and Kevin Zeitler had, along with Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein in Los Angeles.

Now, he's coming to a place where he's going to be expected to lead in his own way.

A year ago, the Panthers signed a couple of offensive linemen early in free agency, but their contracts suggested they were viewed as backups or versatile pieces to give the team options. There's no doubt Corbett was targeted to start, and likely shore up the right side of the line next to steady tackle Taylor Moton to give the Panthers something to build on.

After making the transition from being considered a draft bust, to earning a Super Bowl ring with the Rams, Corbett's ready to take the next step in a career that's already been moving quickly. New Panthers line coach James Campen was there in Cleveland when Corbett was traded away, and he's eager to show his old boss how much better at football he is now.

"My football knowledge has grown so much since then," Corbett said. "Understanding and having more techniques to use, and when to apply those techniques against different defenders and how they move. I think, at least I hope, he's happy with my progression in football knowledge.

"I hope I can come in here and bring that knowledge of what it takes, how hard it is, and just make myself a leader. I know I'm not going to be given that role, but that's everything I do, is try to bring guys along with me, and I want to raise up everyone around me. If I can make a couple people better here and there, I'm doing something right, so I'm ready to get in and talk to the guys and get to know them and get started."

Guard Austin Corbett officially signed with the Panthers on Friday.

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