CHARLOTTE – One of the Panthers’ goals this offseason was to upgrade their wide receiver group.
On paper, at least, they did.
Out are Russell Shepard, Kaelin Clay and Brenton Bersin. In are DJ Moore, Torrey Smith and Jarius Wright.
But all the changes around him haven't changed the status of Damiere Byrd, who's yet again squarely on the roster bubble.
“You expect it,” Byrd said recently of the wideout makeover. “Every week there were new headlines and columns saying, ‘This is what they need.’ So you know when you bring in veteran guys in free agency, or you bring in a draft pick what the situation is going to be. But that doesn't change the player you are.”
Byrd is a speedster, a type of player the Panthers haven’t had enough of in the Cam Newton era. But Smith and Curtis Samuel also have speed – and more secure statuses than Byrd, who is on the fringe for a fourth straight summer.
Heading into training camp, there are likely four “locks” at wide receiver: Devin Funchess, Moore, Samuel and Smith. Wright, who has the most familiarity in offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s system, is also in solid shape. So assuming everyone gets through camp and the preseason healthy, Byrd’s fate could come down to whether the Panthers will be willing to carry six wideouts.
“That doesn't bother me,” Byrd claimed. “I think the best part of being that fringe person is you do one thing and everybody's like, ‘Oh, wow!’ Nobody really expects too much out of you, and then you start doing things and it's like, ‘Where'd he come from?’
“Well, I've probably been the same player the past two or three years.”
Which is good and bad.
Again, Byrd's ability to stretch the field is sorely needed. But his frame hasn’t changed much since he first latched onto a practice squad spot as an undrafted rookie in 2015.
“I've been trying to gain weight the last 10 years, so I don't think too much is going to affect anything now. I don't even look at calories. I just eat,” said the 25-year-old, who's obviously living in a bizarro world compared to the rest of us.
“I have a snack between every meal. Three meals a day, three snacks. Add in protein shakes and smoothies in there, so I'm throwing down a lot of calories.”
At 5-foot-9 and about 180 pounds, Bryd’s slight build makes his durability a big question mark. He spent half of last year – his first when he’s gotten a legit look in the regular season – making two separate trips to injured reserve.
After breaking his arm on a reverse against the Patriots in Week 4, Byrd went on a mini-tear once he came off IR in December when he totaled 10 receptions, 105 yards and two touchdowns in four games. Against the Buccaneers in Week 16, he added a franchise-record 103-yard kickoff return before he suffered a season-ending leg injury on the opening kickoff of the second half.
“If I didn't get hurt the second time, sure you could throw the ‘what-ifs' just because of the way I was playing,” Byrd said. “But at the end of the day, I think I left that season on a high note as far as on-field performance.”
But the spark Byrd provided, while intriguing, was fleeting. So now the guy who’s had to prove himself since the day he came to Carolina has to do it all over again.
“I think every year going into it I'm already at the bottom anyway. I just have that mentality,” Byrd said. “I feel like every offseason we bring in somebody and every time you look at it, I'm always the fringe guy. Is he gonna make it? Is he not gonna make it? Who knows?
“The coaches know. So I just worry about the stuff on the field. You’ve got to go out there and make as many plays as you can and see what happens.”