SPARTANBURG, S.C. - Panthers head coach Ron Rivera says he can see a decided difference in wide receiver Armanti Edwards since the two first met before the NFL's work stoppage.
And it isn't just the hair.
"He has transformed himself," Rivera said. "He has done a heck of a job. Kudos to him."
On May 1, following a rocky rookie season, Edwards had his signature dreadlocks cut off, the first time he's had a haircut since sixth grade. The new look is eye-opening, but it's his new look on the field that's really turning heads.
In Saturday evening's practice to open training camp, Edwards made a pair of highlight-reel catches that made many of the 7,000 fans at Gibbs Stadium stand up and cheer.
And, no, it isn't just the hair.
"It feels lighter on my head, but it doesn't make you faster," Edwards said. "I finally got tired of it and wanted to try something new."
Edwards could have blamed his troubles last season on trying something new. Instead, he blamed himself and vowed to do something about it.
A star quarterback at Appalachian State, where he became the first player in Division I history to pass for more than 10,000 yards and rush for 4,000, Edwards moved to wide receiver after the Panthers picked him in the third round of the 2010 draft.
Edwards played in just three games last season, failing to catch a pass while gaining 7 yards on one rushing attempt.
"Everybody has been at the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and last year was one of the low points in my football career," Edwards said. "You're going to come across it at some point in time, and I came across it last year and had to deal with it. I didn't blame anybody but myself. I tried to deal with it that way."
So Edwards then did the only thing he knew to do in hopes of turning things around: He worked as hard as he possibly could. Along the way, he solicited some help from a familiar name.
"I got with Muhsin Muhammad the last part of the offseason," Edwards said, referring to the Panthers' all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards. "When we had our OTAs by ourselves, he was the wide receiver coach. After OTAs, I got with him.
"He tried to help me on my routes, with my route techniques. I know how hard of a worker he was. Everything we did, we were going at it real hard. I definitely picked that up and never stopped."
When Muhammad wasn't around, Edwards didn't stop, continuing to catch passes and punts from a JUGS Football Machine. He also spent some time with Panthers punter Jason Baker fielding the real thing.
Edwards will have to rely on his speed and athleticism if he's to make a mark in the NFL, and special teams could provide that opportunity. He got a look in the return game early last season but struggled.
"I just had to get more practice at it. Last year was my first time ever catching punts or kickoffs," Edwards said. "If you trust the 10 guys that are blocking, it's not frightening at all, but last year I didn't trust myself really."
Time will tell if Edwards' obvious progress will put him in the mix come game day. Like his hair, his learning curve is now shorter, but there's still plenty of growth in front of him.
"Compared to last year, I'm very far along, but I still have a long ways to go to try to get out there and help this team," Edwards said. "Number one, I want to get better at wide receiver and punt returner. Number two, I want to get on the field, starting, but that's down the line. I just want to get out there and help this team in any way I can."