Panthers rookie Edwards has much to learn as he moves to receiver

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Armanti Edwards finished running a route Saturday morning, and Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson hustled over to give him a critique. Seconds later, Panthers coach John Fox chimed in before clapping with encouragement.

After Edwards caught a pass over the middle, Panthers receivers coach Tyke Tolbert shouted, "That's it, Armanti!"

Before the workout was over, Edwards was praised for quickly learning the proper technique of fielding a punt.

Nobody on the Panthers' roster is receiving more attention at this weekend's minicamp -- and for a good reason. The former Appalachian State quarterback is Carolina's biggest draft gamble.

"I've got a lot to learn," Edwards said.

Indeed, the wiry, speedy, elusive quarterback who engineered the Mountaineers' stunning upset of Michigan in 2007 and delivered two NCAA Football Championship Subdivision national titles isn't behind center anymore.

The 5-foot-11, 182-pound Edwards is running routes as a receiver, something he hasn't done since his junior year of high school. He's also fielding punts for the first time in his life.

"It was expected," Edwards said of his position change. "I'm undersized, so I basically knew I was making the transition to receiver right away."

Few expected Edwards to go so high in the draft or have a team go to such lengths to take the only player in NCAA Division I history to pass for 10,000 yards and rush for 4,000 more. But Panthers general manager Marty Hurney was so determined to acquire Edwards that he traded next year's second-round pick to New England for the Patriots' third-round choice, which Carolina used to snag the Greenwood, S.C., native.

"We think he has the talent to warrant that," Hurney said. "You're talking about him having a year to develop and a year to train at the wide receiver position and returns or however we decide to use him.

"Hopefully, in a year, we'll see that it was the right thing to do. He has a lot of qualities that make you think he is going to be a very good football player."

The Panthers hope Edwards can became another Josh Cribbs or Antwaan Randle-El, converted college quarterbacks who have thrived at receiver and returner in the NFL.

It's a big undertaking. Edwards, the only two-time winner of the Walter Payton Award as the nation's top FCS player, is scrambling to learn a position he hasn't played in six years.

"It's a drastic difference because this is the NFL now. This isn't high school cornerbacks," Edwards said. "These are the best the cornerbacks in the league, so I've got to work hard very quickly."

Edwards, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds at his pro day, is working out at punt returner, too, along with Captain Munnerlyn and newly signed Trent Guy.

Edwards said Saturday marked the first time he has felt comfortable back there.

"It took him one day to learn how to catch punts. Yesterday, he was all down here," Munnerlyn said, dropping his arms below his waist. "Today, I was impressed. I told him to keep just working hard. I know it's not going to be easy from playing quarterback, but he should be a pretty good player."

Edwards is far down the Panthers' depth chart for now, running routes after obscure players such as Wallace Wright and David Gettis. While there has been speculation the Panthers could use Edwards in some version of the Wildcat offense, that hasn't happened yet.

For now, the quiet Edwards is soaking in all he can from as many sources as possible, including four-time Pro Bowl wideout Steve Smith.

"From a quarterback going to a wideout, I think it may not be as hard as people think because as a quarterback you have the responsibility to know where everyone is on the field," Smith said. "I think for him, he has to focus on being the wideout, so he doesn't have as many tasks as a quarterback generally has. I don't think it will be that much harder. ...

"But I think he will do pretty good. I wouldn't say he's going to struggle."

Notes: Starting CB Richard Marshall, who's upset with his contract situation, missed his second consecutive day of practice. The restricted free agent still hasn't signed his one-year, $1.759 million tender, so he can't be fined for missing the mandatory camp. "He called and checked on his teammates," said Munnerlyn, who's filling in for Marshall with the first-team defense. "I know he misses us. He's doing what he's got to do." Marshall's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, hasn't returned messages seeking comment. ... LB Thomas Davis took the day off after practicing Friday. He's working his way back from a knee injury. ... Geoff Schwartz has been working with the starters at right guard. ... The Panthers signed former Richmond RB Josh Vaughan to provide depth with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart recovering from injuries.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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