SPARTANBURG -- Carolina Panthers wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett's rookie season was upside down before it even started.
But after just a few days of camp, he's showing signs of getting back on his feet, as he was lucky enough to do earlier this summer following a dramatic car crash on Interstate 77 in Charlotte.
Jarrett walked away sore but unscathed from a June 20 accident which happened as he headed to his new home in the suburbs. According to the report filed by the N.C. Highway Patrol, Jarrett was doing about 65 mph in the middle lane of I-77 South when he was hit in the left rear by another car, causing his BMW to flip and bound into another car before coming to rest on its roof nearly 200 feet away.
"Luckily I had on my seat belt, or I probably wouldn't have been here right now," Jarrett said Monday, wide-eyed at the memory. "I was blessed.
"It happened so fast you didn't have time to react. You're going down the highway, going about 60, 65. When a car hits you, you try to regain control back of the car. I hit that other car and it was a mess. After that, I don't remember anything."
Jarrett said he remembered climbing out of his demolished 650i, but the rest of the details are hazy. He's since traded in the luxury sports car for a bigger, ostensibly safer Range Rover.
And while you can see the look of fright cross his face when he discusses the incident, he's too busy now to dwell on it -- his hands are literally full. He walked into the cafeteria Monday with two playbooks wedged into his right hand, leaving him to wrangle his keys, phone and headphones in the left.
But as awkward as that was, he's coming through with a measure of grace, handling the heavy load thrown at him in a manner that's caught eyes in camp.
The Panthers had high expectations for Jarrett when they used the 45th overall pick in the draft on him -- reasonable given the 41 touchdowns he caught in just three years at Southern Cal. Those expectations grew days later when they released veteran wideout Keyshawn Johnson, leaving the Panthers without a proven complement to Steve Smith.
As a result, they started working Jarrett in quickly, giving him time with the starters in June summer school, ahead of veterans Drew Carter and Keary Colbert. Those two are taking most of the first-team reps now, but Jarrett's coming quickly.
"I wouldn't say there's pressure," Jarrett said. "But me myself, I have high expectations. So for me to go out there and work hard every day and be there for the team, try to help them out any way I can, I put pressure on myself.
"Things are coming along, I've just got to take one day at a time."
There are plenty of reasons to ease him into things, not the least of which is his age. He left USC a year early, and he's still more than a month away from his 21st birthday.
"He is, but he's got to grow up fast," elder wide receivers coach Richard Williamson said when asked about Jarrett's youth. "You can't be young long in this business. I told him that, he understands that, and he's working at it.
"A guy who did what he did, what, 41 touchdown passes? That's pretty good production. I don't care if you're running against air, that's pretty good. Time will tell, but I know he's a worker, he's a smart kid, and if he just stays on the same track he's on, things will work out for him."
Williamson, who's known as a stickler for details, has been in Jarrett's ear since he arrived. The veteran coach, who played for Bear Bryant at Alabama, will bark at his guys quickly and constantly if they don't cut at the exact spot which he's flung his visor on the ground. Jarrett's gotten his share and then some (especially since he's taking more snaps at the more complicated flanker spot than his old split end role) but Williamson said he's noticed the light going on the last few days.
"He's getting a better feel for what we're doing now," Williamson said. "As he gets a little more feel for what we're doing, maybe he gains a little more confidence, and so things are picking up for him. I know when we go to minicamp and summer school, we throw a lot at them. We do. We put a lot on their plate.
"I can tell the last couple days he's got a lot more confidence in what he's doing."
Of course, confidence never seemed to be an issue. Though few (perhaps no) receiver share's Johnson's self-assurance, Jarrett didn't shrink from a little talk in college. Combined with his size, Johnson's "much like me," characterization on draft day seemed apt.
But these days, Jarrett's the quiet, respectful rookie, and Williamson has pointed out several subtle difference between Jarrett's game and Johnson's. Notably, Jarrett's not as strong, but Williamson quickly added: "I think in time he will be."
Regardless the comparisons, Jarrett's going to strike his own path. How successful the Panthers' passing game can be partially depends on how well he (or Colbert or Carter) can take some pressure off Smith, and Jarrett knows much of the expectation will naturally fall his way, though he said he's not obsessing over it.
"I'm just the new kid on the block, trying to come in and play my role, play my position and work hard," Jarrett said. "Whether I start or not the first game. So it doesn't really matter, I can't control that. All I can control is what I do out there and I just have to work hard and have fun."
Head of the class
Even though he stayed just three seasons, Panthers rookie receiver Dwayne Jarrett left Southern Cal as the school's all-time leader in receptions and touchdowns. The top of the school's illustrious list:
Rec.Yds.Avg.TD1. Dwayne Jarrett216313814.53412. Keary Colbert207296414.32193. Kareem Kelly204310415.22154. Johnnie Morton201320115.93235. Steve Smith190301915.89226. Mike Williams176257914.65307. Keyshawn Johnson168279616.6416
Note: Williams and Johnson played two seasons at USC
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