CHARLOTTE – Head coach Ron Rivera said it was difficult to waive veteran wide receiver Jason Avant on Tuesday, but the Panthers made the move to make things more difficult on opposing defenses.
"I feel like this was something we needed to do because it makes us more dynamic in terms of style," said Rivera, who liked the production Sunday against Atlanta from the combination of big target Kelvin Benjamin, possession receiver Jerricho Cotchery and speedster Philly Brown.
"If you look at our receiving corps, there is nobody like Kelvin. Cotch, Avant and (Brenton) Bersin are very similar in style of play, so when you put those guys out there, there's nothing different," Rivera continued. "But now you have Cotch and Benjamin and then you add Brown out there, now there are three different guys with three different styles."
The majority of the Panthers' three-receiver sets this season had featured Benjamin along with Cotchery and Avant, a pair of veterans with similar skill sets. Cotchery has 12 receptions for 171 yards in the last five games; Avant had four catches for 22 yards over the same time frame.
Versus Atlanta, with Brown back after missing three games with a concussion, the Panthers went to three wide-receiver sets featuring Benjamin, Cotchery and Brown late in the game. Benjamin brought the Panthers to 16-10 with an acrobatic 22-yard touchdown catch with nine minutes left, then Brown put Carolina ahead with a 47-yard touchdown reception that was all about speed.
"We have lacked that vertical challenge and that quickness underneath," Rivera said. "We looked at what Philly has done when he's had extended playing time and the explosive nature of the plays that he has made.
"This is nothing against what Jason did or didn't do. This has everything to do with what Philly has brought to the table."
Rivera said the decision to waive Avant would create more opportunities for Brown and Bersin in terms of game-day snaps but also in terms of valuable reps in practice. It will also increase the opportunities in practice – and possibly in games – for wide receiver/cornerback De'Andre Presley, who was promoted from the practice squad Tuesday.
Presley, a former Appalachian State standout, was considered a vertical threat for the Panthers heading into last offseason, but a stress fracture in his left leg forced him to miss training camp and landed him on the physically unable to perform list until earlier this month.
"He's somebody we kept around for a reason, so this is an opportunity to see if we can get De'Andre active as well," Rivera said. "He and Philly have the same type of skill set – quick, fast guys with great hands and great concentration. We'd also like to see if we can create an opportunity for De'Andre to go out there and return punts.
"We're looking at some younger players that do some things well for us, and the only way we can find out if they can do more for us obviously is to create more opportunities for them. That's what we've done."
Rivera was asked if the emphasis on finding snaps for younger players entering the final five games of the season signals that the Panthers are focused on building for next year rather than winning this year.
Rivera said the Panthers intend to do both, just like they did when they finished strong following slow starts in 2011 and 2012.
"There is an opportunity for us to win, get into the playoffs and make some noise – that's the way we're approaching it," he said. "The thought also is that we've got some young guys that have to continue to get opportunities.
"Without a doubt, I don't see why (we can't do both)."