Panthers:Disappointing Jarrett gets his chance

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 13, 2009

Associated Press
SPARTANBURG, S.C. ó After two years that’s included plenty of criticism, few catches and no touchdowns, Dwayne Jarrett has been thrust into a starting role with the Steve Smith-less Carolina Panthers.
His teammates believe the former Southern California star may finally be ready for the job.
“Dwayne, without a doubt,” quarterback Jake Delhomme blurted out when asked what receiver had the best chance to benefit while Smith is sidelined with a right shoulder injury. “I think what he’s done this camp is a big jump. I think Dwayne’s the one”
The scene Wednesday of Jarrett breaking the huddle with the first team, then catching a touchdown pass over the middle from Delhomme was what the Panthers envisioned when the used a second-round pick on him in 2007.
Only his first two seasons have been full of talk about why he couldn’t learn the playbook, whispers about his work ethic and rumblings that he was overweight and out of shape.
His most memorable rookie moment was when Smith told him in the locker room that he should be watching film instead of talking to reporters. Year two wasn’t much better, giving him just 16 catches over two seasons.
The guy who set a Pac-10 record with 41 career touchdown catches ó in only three seasons at USC ó has yet to reach the end zone in the NFL.
Now with Smith expected to miss at least a couple of weeks and with little depth behind him, Jarrett is suddenly a starter opposite Muhsin Muhammad.
“I wouldn’t say he’s necessarily arrived where he’s a perfectionist at running routes, but you can see him eventually start to pay attention to the little details,” Muhammad said. “It’s important to him that he does things right in practice, where there may have been an impression that he really didn’t care. I think he’s showing that it’s important to him.”
That was in question early, when a then-20-year-old Jarrett seemed overwhelmed as an NFL rookie ó and incapable of replacing Keyshawn Johnson, who was released three days after the Panthers took the 6-foot-4 receiver in the second-round of the 2007 draft.
Jarrett not only didn’t win the No. 2 receiver job, he was on the inactive list for most of the season and finished with six catches for 73 yards.
Muhammad was signed before last season and become a starter. Jarrett improved some, but played in only nine games while he alternated with veteran D.J. Hackett as the No. 3 receiver. The criticism continued from coaches, teammates and fans.
“In the NFL there is no leniency, so you’ve got to be a little thick-skinned around here. It’s nothing personal,” Muhammad said. “It’s all to make you better. I think he’s learned that, too.”
Now the Panthers need Jarrett. With Hackett released in the offseason, Jarrett is the most experienced receiver on the roster after Smith and Muhammad.
“It’s like night and day,” Jarrett said. “Mentally I’ve grown a lot as far as understanding what the offense is trying to do and just having fun out there and not trying to put too much pressure on myself. Just take it one day at a time and continuously try to get better.”
Jarrett has drawn some rare good reviews from teammates so far. He came to camp in better shape, more serious and eager to shed his reputation as a bust.
“I just think it’s confidence, it’s being in the system,” Delhomme said. “It looks like he’s in pretty good shape now. I think he’s running well, I think that’s the biggest thing. He’s a big guy, and when his weight is at a good spot he really does well.
“He’s really knowing what he’s doing. We’ve got a ton in right now. We’re not having mental errors, so that’s good.”
Jarrett is seven inches taller than Smith and nowhere near as quick. He’s such a different receiver that Delhomme acknowledged they’ll have to change the offense slightly while Smith is out.
But the Panthers believe that dynamic player who starred at USC could eventually show up in the NFL.
“I think it’s a chance for him to mature,” Muhammad said. “I think more importantly it’s a chance for him to gain confidence in himself.”