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Adams hopes to add punch to Panthers return game

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - The Carolina Panthers have gone nearly a decade since they returned a punt for a touchdown in a regular season game.

Enter rookie Joe Adams, who hopes to remedy that.

Adams was one of the premier punt returners in college football last season at Arkansas, returning four for touchdowns including one gem against Tennessee which has generated more than 224,600 hits on You Tube.

"I'm the type of guy who can make things happen," Adams said.

And he's not only talking about returning punts.

Adams, who has been putting his talents this weekend at Panthers rookie minicamp, said he'd love to follow the career path of new teammate Steve Smith, parlaying a successful start as an NFL returner into a productive career as a wide receiver.

Smith, entering his 12th season, was selected to the Pro Bowl his rookie season as a returner before making four more trips as a receiver.

There are some similarities between Adams and Smith.

Adams is 5-foot-11, two inches taller than Smith, but they but both weigh about 181 pounds. Smith was a third-round pick. Adams was taken in the fourth. They're both quick. And, like Smith, Adams doesn't lack for confidence and appears fearless with the ball in his hands.

In fact, Adams gets mad when he doesn't get a chance to return a punt.

"I hate fair catching the ball," Adams said.

In his eyes every time he touches the ball his team has a chance for a big play.

"And one big play can change the whole game," he said.

Smith did that as a rookie.

In fact, the first time Smith touched the ball as a professional in 2001 he took the opening kickoff back for a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings in the regular season opener.

Smith added five more returns for touchdowns - three on punts and two on kickoffs - in his first three seasons. His last punt return for a touchdown in a regular season game - and Carolina's last, too - came in 2003. Smith did add another in the NFC championship game against Seattle in the 2005 season.

After his third season, however, Smith only returned punts on special occasions because he'd become too valuable as a wide receiver.

The Panthers have never been able to replace him on punt returns.

They hoped Armanti Edwards, a college quarterback at Appalachian State, could help fill that void but he's struggled with his confidence and averaged just 5.5 yards per return last season. The Panthers have already said Adams will be their punt returner, which means Edwards will have to make the team as a receiver.

Adams knows all about Smith's exploits.

He's studied Smith on tape, but said working alongside him is something he's looking forward to after the veteran players join the rookies later this month at OTAs.

"Hopefully when he gets here I can pick up on things that he learned over the years and he can teach me things and use that to better my game," Adams said.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera believes Adams has game-breaking talent.

The return against Tennessee, a have-to-see-it-to-believe-it play in which Adams broke six tackles en route to the end zone, was the one that caught Rivera's eye.

"He has that kind of burst and quickness that you need to get away and create," Rivera said. "You can see him get to the corner and make that first guy miss. That's where you can see that potential to make something happen."

It's something Adams said comes naturally.

"I've always been quick," Adams said. "Ever since I was a little kid I've liked having the ball in my hands and making people miss, breaking it open in the open field and not letting people catch me from behind."

As for his receiving skills, Rivera said that'll be a work in progress.

After watching him in practice he said Adams needs to work to refining his route running and improving his crispness coming out of the breaks.

But once Adams catches the ball there's no denying Rivera likes what he sees.

"Once he does catch the ball in traffic, boy, he's got some quickness," Rivera said. "He can really make a nice little move and he's gone."

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