Published November 20, 2014
While the winless Carolina Panthers hope rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen can spark a stagnant offense, it would help if he had more than one receiving option.
Through two games, it appears four-time Pro Bowl pick Steve Smith is again Carolina's lone threat.
There are numerous ugly offensive numbers that helped get Matt Moore benched after two games. The Panthers have two scored touchdowns and committed eight turnovers. They've allowed eight sacks and the dominant rushing attack from a year ago has stalled.
But the lack of production at receiver is glaring outside of Smith, who has eight catches for 141 yards and two scores despite facing nearly constant double teams.
The Panthers' offseason youth movement cost Muhsin Muhammad his job and precluded Carolina from going after veteran receivers such as Brandon Marshall, Anquan Boldin or T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The youthful unknown replacements have been nearly non-factors so far — and the New York Giants and Tampa Bay have acted accordingly by stacking the box to stop the run and putting bracket coverage on Smith.
It might explain why the moody Smith declined to answer questions on Clausen or anything else on Thursday.
"We've got a very young group there," coach John Fox said of his receivers.
The Panthers' second-leading receiver is running back Mike Goodson with five catches for 64 yards. Then comes tight end Dante Rosario with five receptions for 61 yards and running back DeAngelo Williams, who has caught three balls for 20 yards.
Finally, on the list a receiver shows up fifth. Dwayne Jarrett, beaten out by two rookies for starting assignments in the first two games, has two catches for 40 yards.
Jarrett, one of Carolina's most disappointing players since being taken in the second round in 2007, didn't have a pass thrown his way in Carolina's 20-7 loss to the Buccaneers.
"I had a good talk with coach Fox. It's not a trust factor," Jarrett said. "I guess they're trying out new things. They want to see some of the new guys and find out the right rotation. Hopefully, this week I can be in the starting lineup."
He might just by process of elimination. Rookie Brandon LaFell, who started the opener and sat out last week with a sore hamstring, has two catches for 22 yards. He returned to practice on Thursday, but said he wasn't sure if he'll play Sunday.
Rookie David Gettis, who started last week, had just two catches for 18 yards and is still raw after playing in a run-oriented offense at Baylor.
Rookie Armanti Edwards, a converted college quarterback from Appalachian State, has been on the inactive list for the first two games as he learns a new position.
"It's kind of a given that I just need to improve on being a receiver," Edwards said.
With Edwards not getting a jersey and Charly Martin placed on injured reserve last week with a hamstring injury, the Panthers dressed only three receivers against the Bucs. Rosario was used in some three- and four-receiver sets, and couldn't come up with a slightly overthrown ball that would've been a touchdown.
"That's an example that there are plays to be made," Rosario said. "If a few things go a little bit differently for us, it's a different game."
Moore might still have a starting job if he didn't overthrow an open Gettis for what would've also been a touchdown Sunday. Yet the sixth-round pick, known for his speed, still thinks he can become a much-needed deep threat.
"I think the coaches are pushing that — use what God gave you, use your abilities, use what we brought you here for and use it every snap," Gettis said. "And that's what I plan to do."
It would help if Jarrett finally showed the potential Carolina expected when it took him and released Keyshawn Johnson days later. Jarrett has been criticized for his work ethic and not knowing the playbook, was arrested for driving while impaired and has caught one NFL touchdown pass in four seasons.
"I wouldn't say angry, more frustrated than anything," Jarrett said on not starting. "But what can you do? You just have to go out there and keep working hard. Hopefully, I get my opportunity."
The Panthers, the NFL's youngest team, can only hope someone steps forward to give Clausen help in his first NFL start Sunday against Cincinnati.
If not, he wouldn't be the first Carolina QB to struggle to find anyone to throw to after Smith.
"We have to make more plays for whoever is under center," said tight end Jeff King, still looking for his first catch of the season. "It's not all Matt's fault."
Notes: Smith remained limited in practice with a sore thigh, but is expected to play Sunday. ... The Panthers signed former Jets WR Marcus Henry to the practice squad and released RB Josh Vaughan.