Jerricho Cotchery still has something to offer Panthers

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – The Jerricho Cotchery beat cornerback Josh Norman deep for a touchdown pass.

A week later, the 33-year-old wide receiver caught another long pass from quarterback Cam Newton.

Every time you start to think Cotchery might become expendable when the 53-man roster is set, he makes another big play.

Cotchery has no doubt he has a place on this team.

"I know I do," he recently said in his soft-spoken voice. "I know I can help this team out a lot. That’s what I came here for, to help this team win a championship. That’s what I look forward to doing.

"But in the meantime, you want to make sure you’re helping the guys behind you, not withholding any advice or anything that can help them be better."

Cotchery was the No. 2 receiver opposite first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin last season until undrafted rookie Corey Brown emerged.

With more upgrades at a position that coach Ron Rivera says is deeper than it’s been since he arrived at Carolina in 2011, Cotchery is working mostly out of the slot.

There are receivers on the roster that are faster. There are receivers that are bigger.

But none are smarter than Cotchery, heading into his 12th season.

"The biggest thing is he brings such stability to that core," Rivera said.

"He’s taken a lot of these young guys under his wing and he’s explained how things need to be done and how to do things. That’s what you need from a veteran guy, and he’s taken that role."

The last time Cotchery played almost exclusively in the slot he had 10 touchdown catches for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013.

"It’s an advantage that I have being able to play in the"he said. “I played it so long. ... I can use some of my, you know, experience as far as finding those open lanes and having those option routes be available for Cam."

Cotchery caught 48 passes for 580 yards last season. His numbers may decrease with Benjamin looking better than ever, and newcomers Ted Ginn Jr., Devin Funchess and Jarrett Boykin added to the roster with Benjamin, Brown and Brenton Bersin. But Cotchery’s experience and savvy out of the slot should keep him around. He keeps reminding that when he makes plays as he did on the first day of camp against the closest thing Carolina has to a shutdown corner.

"I thought the play was kind of over with," Norman said. "I looked into his eyes and he didn’t give me anything as the ball was coming. “Cotchery just gave me a little vet move, and I found myself getting behind him and the ball’s over the top of my head. I was like, ‘Dang, I’m about to get ragged by Cam.’"

There was no ragging from Cotchery. That’s not his style. He just goes about his business in a quiet, professional way, another reason the Panthers should keep him around.