CHARLOTTE – Terrace Marshall Jr. said facing the Bengals this Sunday will be a "dream come true," and it's for more reasons than one.
Perhaps most significantly, more snaps and targets have started to come Marshall's way, and his role in Carolina's offense is growing. He played 86 percent of the offensive snaps in Week 7 against the Buccaneers and 93 percent against the Falcons in Week 8, the two highest marks of his young career. Last week in Atlanta, Marshall came up with four catches for 87 yards on nine targets, also all highs of his career.
And Marshall will take his momentum to Cincinnati, where he will see some of his teammates from a 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship run at LSU for the first time of his professional career – wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (who won't play against Carolina due to a hip injury) and quarterback Joe Burrow.
"It's going to be pretty fun," Marshall said. "Being in the NFL at this stage is a dream come true for all three of us. … It's a dream come true to be able to look across the field and know that my brothers are over there, and we're living our dream."
His old teammates made the Super Bowl last year, and while that kind of success hasn't met Marshall so far, he is beginning to deliver on his potential. Coaches and teammates said it was only a matter of time before the Panthers' 2021 second-round pick emerged. Wide receivers coach Joe Dailey and interim head coach Steve Wilks commended Marshall's practice habits while he recovered from preseason injuries and waited for his turn behind other receivers.
"Once he had an opportunity to start, he just knew that all the work he put in was going to surface at some point," Dailey said. "It was inevitable; it was going to show up. And sure enough, last week was the most productive game he has ever had since he has been here. That's a testament of his work."
Marshall struggled with injuries throughout this rookie season and never fully emerged. Before this season, he impressed coaches with big play ability throughout OTAs and training camp, but that was when he was on the field. He dealt with a lower leg strain at various points throughout the preseason, resulting in the slow start to his second year.
Marshall didn't tally a significant number of snaps until Week 5 against San Francisco when he recorded his first catch of the year, and he has earned the starting nod in the Panthers' last two games against Tampa Bay and Atlanta.
There's an obvious learning advantage for Marshall in seeing his snap count rise, but Dailey said Marshall's ability to make the most of his time in practice has also aided his development.
Marshall is consistently one of the last players to leave the practice field, often staying back with quarterback PJ Walker and Dailey to get a few more catches before heading back to the locker room.
"A young football player who hasn't played a lot of snaps in the National Football League is going to learn a lot just playing the game on Sundays, (but) a guy like Terrace is very intentional with his preparation in practice," Dailey said. "He practices with purpose. He's the type of guy that will learn from watching other people's reps and his own practice reps."
Marshall and Walker have built up chemistry in the passing game. Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said that came organically through practice reps before either were starters. When Baker Mayfield started for the Panthers in Weeks 1-5, Walker ran the scout team offense with Marshall at receiver.
"When he got back and got healthy, PJ had a chance to throw to him quite a bit on the look team, so there's a chemistry right there between those two guys," McAdoo said. "That's a natural part of the game. Terrace is a guy who keeps growing; he keeps getting better. And as he gets more games under his belt, we expect him to take more steps."
McAdoo said the Panthers have a "lot of confidence" in Marshall's ability to win 50-50 matchups with his physicality as a 6-foot-2, 200-pound wideout. And Walker said he believes the coaches saw Marshall's progress in practice, which eventually led to his opportunity. The two of them related in that way.
"His production overall, I think, when we were doing scout team in practice, they just saw it," Walker said. "They knew he was ready. They knew it was time for him to get up and start playing. In the first couple of weeks, he was inactive. That also gives him a chip on his shoulder. He's a second-round draft pick, and for him to just go out there with that mindset, always staying humble…
"We always had conversations. For us, it's just always talking, staying positive, and never looking at the negatives. There are a lot of things that happen in this league that people on the outside don't really see, but for him to just continue to get better every day, that's something I was proud of, and he's still continuing to get better."
Marshall said he works extra in practice to "create muscle memory," catching balls from different angles and taking in feedback from coaches.
"That makes things a lot easier for me when you've got a young man who is fully committed to becoming the best version of himself because then he's super vulnerable and available," Dailey said. "He's the type of young man that wants to embrace the feedback. He wants all the feedback he can get so he can put it into execution. You appreciate that about a guy like himself because those guys – there aren't a lot of them."
And as his snap counts and stats tick upward, Marshall said his mentality wouldn't change.
"I don't really pay attention to all the hype; I know who I am at the end of the day," Marshall said. "It's no surprise to me when I look in the mirror, so I'm just going to keep doing what I do and stay humble."
Check out the best photos from Thursday's practice as the Panthers prepare to take on the Bengals this weekend.