SPARTANBURG, S.C. – When wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery attended his first NFL training camp in 2004, more teams competed for championships with a run-first mentality than do today.
Cotchery is enjoying the comparatively free-wheeling approach offenses are taking these days, and he's pleased with how the Panthers' young receiving corps that he's mentoring is handling the spotlight.
"They're ready to go. They're asking questions and just trying to get better," Cotchery said. "They're taking all of the advice (wide receivers) coach (Ricky) Proehl has for them and really challenging themselves to compete every day."
The prized pupil is Kelvin Benjamin, who is coming off a 1,000-yard season as a rookie.
"He's eager to get it right," Cotchery said. "He is highly competitive, so if a guy gets the best of him in a one-on-one matchup he wants to go right back at them and he doesn't want to sleep on it. He's ready to go for the next day.
"It's refreshing to see a young player like that. He's the lead dog to be honest. He's going to have to bring it each and every day, and he's taken that upon himself to do so."
Back when Cotchery was a rookie, the New York Jets reached the AFC Divisional Playoffs with a team that relied on defense and future Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin. The Jets saw their season come to an end at the hands of future Hall of Fame back Jerome Bettis.
When Cotchery was a rookie, Jets receivers totaled 11 touchdown receptions. In 2013 with the Steelers, Cotchery caught 10 touchdown passes himself – as Pittsburgh's third-leading receiver.
"It used to be a lot of ground and pound," Cotchery said. "Now, there is a lot of passing going on and a lot of misdirection type of stuff trying to create passing lanes and different things of that nature, but I think it's still good that you get the running game going."
Whether it's catching a pass or run blocking, Cotchery is willing to do whatever it takes for the Panthers to be successful. Last year, he caught one touchdown as the Panthers' third-leading receiver, but this year he and the Panthers could benefit from him returning to a role he's quite familiar with – slot receiver. It's a role that quarterback Cam Newton isn't as familiar with, but just as Cotchery does with younger wide receivers, he's working to help straighten the learning curve.
"I started outside last year then moved inside, and this year is a lot more work in the slot," Cotchery said. "We're getting some different things going on in there where I can use some of my experience as far as finding those open lanes in there and using those routes to be available for Cam.
"He hasn't had a lot of experience working with a lot of slot guys to be honest. So I just try to over communicate in a sense, to let him know what I'm thinking, so he can get a feel for what's going on in there. Hopefully, we grow more and more in that area, and I think it can be a great asset to all of the things that we do in this offense. "