Rookie Report: Show Time for WRs

The speculation and uncertainty about the Panthers' wide receiver corps during training camp and the preaseason has followed them well into the regular season, and it may be time for some rookies to take the reins earlier than expected.

During the New Orleans game, Steve Smith went down with an ankle injury and is expected to be out at least for the Bears game this week. This news brought about speculation as to who would move up to take his spot on the depth chart and how the Panthers would fare without their star playmaker.

Compound this with the story on Tuesday morning that Dwayne Jarrett was arrested for a DWI and has been waived and Panther Nation is abuzz about where this leaves the team.

Clearly, losing Smith is a major blow to the team; he's the veteran leader on offense and the team's most dynamic playmaker. He forces defenses to make adjustments to his presence on the field. Plus, he's the leading receiver so far this year with 13 receptions for 174 yards and two touchdowns.

Losing Jarrett isn't as damaging--so far this year he only amassed two catches for 40 yards, which came in the opening game against the Giants.

WR Armanti Edwards
Chuck Burton/AP
So, where do the Panthers go from here? As far as rookie contributions, there need to be plenty. David Gettis, Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards may all be called upon to try to fill the void these recent departures have left.

Going by the numbers, Gettis seems to be the most likely rookie to compensate for the loss. He's fourth on the team and leads the other rookies with seven receptions for 87 yards. Not only that, but he's been reliable in clutch situations; his 16-yard reception from Jimmy Clausen on fourth-and-4 on the final drive in New Orleans last week was a thing of beauty, and he also made big catches in the Tampa Bay and Cincinnati games.

Gettis ranks 11th in receptons among NFL rookies and only five of those ahead of him are wide receivers. Because of this reliability, he may become one of Clausen's favorite targets.

LaFell was the first receiver drafted by the Panthers this year, but so far his play hasn't surpassed that of Gettis, a sixth rounder. LaFell sits at four catches for 67 yards. Two of his receptions came in the opening game against New York, both of which were key elements to important drives, and most of his yardage is attributed to a 44-yard reception from Clausen against Cincinnati.

However, LaFell's presence was not felt in New Orleans as he gained just 1 yard on one catch, as opposed to Gettis' two receptions for 37 yards. It looks as if he has the speed and ability, but he'll need to mature and learn quickly to start putting up better numbers. LaFell started training camp a little rough then picked it up near the end, so hopefully he'll start to hit his stride soon.

Edwards would be final rookie receiver to be called upon and is probably the most talked about Panther in history who's never even been active for a regular season game. He has no regular season numbers to show, but his preseason was interesting; he had a couple of nice receptions against the Titans in the third game, but any good he did was overshadowed by his muffed punts, which didn't sit well with fans who thought he was undeserving of such a high selection.

As of right now, there's no indication of whether he will be active, but it seems likely he will be under the circumstances. Like LaFell, Edwards really shined at the end of training camp and showed he's got the skills to play the position. It's just a matter of whether they can transfer to real game action, and expecting him to step into the game on Sunday and make plays will be a tall order.

Also, don't be surprised, if Edwards dresses, to see the Mountaineer Package come into play. Sitting at 0-4, John Fox may be willing to pull out anything to spark his team.

The rookies may be bailed out in some cases by Dante Rosario and even Mike Goodson, both of whom outrank the rookies in receptions and yards, but the Panthers will need solid play from each of them to open up the game and have a good shot at winning on Sunday.

Alex Montgomery is a graduate of Western Carolina University with a degree in Professional Writing. He has worked for the Western Carolinian and his hometown newspaper, the Kernersville News. He currently resides in Charlotte, NC. You can see more of his updates by following him on Twitter.

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