There he goes, No. 16 in blue, streaking past his Carolina Panther teammates on the defensive side of the ball.
As Cam Newton’s pass falls in Corey Brown’s hands just short of the end zone, a collective yell echoes from the practice field just outside of Bank of America Stadium.
“Philly!” screams nearly every Panthers player, as the wide receiver hauls in his second deep touchdown reception during Thursday’s third OTA session.
The nickname, which Brown was given as a freshman at Ohio State, became what teammates and fans grew to call him during his rookie season. But entering his second season with the Panthers, entrenched in a thick competition at wide receiver, he’s reinventing himself – starting with his name.
“Philly was fun while it lasted,” said Brown, whose first name is listed as Corey on the team’s official roster. “But at the same time, I’d rather have my regular name.”
Signed by Carolina as an undrafted free agent in 2014, Brown emerged as a versatile playmaker for the Panthers in his first season with the team. In 13 games, he recorded 21 receptions for 296 yards and two touchdowns.
Brown also led the team with an average of 9.6 yards per punt return. His 79-yard touchdown return in Carolina’s Week 5 win over Chicago broke the Panthers’ 164-game drought without a punt return for a touchdown.
In Thursday’s practice, Brown showed flashes of his big-play ability, hooking up with Newton multiple times for big gains on screen passes as well as passes downfield. After connecting with Brown for one touchdown, Newton sprinted nearly 50 yards for a celebratory chest bump.
“We just click. You can tell, its kind of natural,” said Brown of his chemistry with Newton. “We have a good relationship off the field, and you can tell that on the field. It’s just natural the way were clicking right now.”
But Brown wasn’t the only receiver on the same page as Newton on Thursday. Stephen Hill, Jerricho Cotchery and offseason addition Ted Ginn Jr. all saw snaps with the first-team offense.
Along with second-year receiver Kelvin Benjamin and second-round pick Devin Funchess, coach Ron Rivera sees the team’s receiving corps as being strong and full of internal competition.
“We’ve got a good group of guys, and we’re excited about it,” Rivera said. “We think our wide receiver group has gone through a transition in the last year and a half. We expect it to continue to get better.”
Brown agreed with Rivera, saying the level of competition is much greater than it was at this point in 2014. But he’s not worrying about any of the other players vying for the No. 3 receiver spot.
“I can’t control who they bring in or what they do,” Brown said. “I can only control what I do on the field and leave them no choice but to play me.”
In order to ensure himself extra snaps this season, Brown said he’s spent the offseason working on his route running as well as running in sand to increase his agility. He’s also gained 10 pounds, which he jokingly said came from eating Philly cheesesteaks.
Brown walked off the field Thursday, winded after running across nearly every square inch of it. He says he’s bigger, stronger and faster. But some things wont change.
“Teammates will always call me Philly,” he said. “Half of the people on this team don’t even know my real name. But all of the coaches call me Corey now. As far as teammates, I don’t think that will ever change.”
James: 704-358-5118; Twitter: @patjames24