When Carolina Panthers wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl discusses receiver Brenton Bersin, he can’t help but draw comparisons to himself.
In his 17-year career as an NFL receiver, including a three-year stint with the Panthers, Proehl built a reputation as a knowledgeable player and mentor to his teammates. That role is one Proehl says Bersin has filled this offseason.
“He does such a great job of helping the young guys out, helping them learn the system, teaching them what our concepts are and what we’re trying to accomplish each play,” Proehl said following Tuesday’s minicamp practice. “For a coach, he’s a dream because he helps you. He’s another coach on the field that’s playing.”
Next month will mark Bersin's fourth trip to Spartanburg for Panthers’ training camp, more than any other player at his position. And it’s his experience and versatility that his coaches say separates him from Carolina’s crowded receiving corps.
An alumnus of Charlotte Latin and Wofford, Bersin attended training camp with the Panthers in 2012 before being waived during the preseason. After spending the spring of 2013 in the Arena Football League, he returned to Carolina as a practice-squad player.
Bersin’s progression continued in 2014, as he played in 15 games as a receiver and punt returner. He had 13 catches for 151 yards and one touchdown. But as he’s grown, the Panthers’ receiving core has fluctuated.
“Three years ago, Steve Smith, (Brandon) LaFell, all of those guys were here,” said Bersin about being the veteran of the group. “And last year I was the only guy left from a year before. It’s just weird.”
Carolina returns three other receivers from its 2014 53-player roster, including second-year wideouts Kelvin Benjamin and Corey Brown.
Along with the offseason additions of Ted Ginn Jr. and second-round draft pick Devin Funchess, Bersin says the battle at wide receiver is much more competitive than in the past.
But as he’s demonstrated throughout OTAs (organized training activities) and minicamp, Bersin can play whatever receiver position is needed of him, whether it’s split outside, in the slot or as the flanker. This quality hasn’t gone unnoticed by coach Ron Rivera.
“The thing about Brenton is he’s always known what to do,” Rivera said. “For him just coming in like he has, he’s just solid. With his experience, he can play a lot of positions for you. You can plug him into any circumstance or situation, and he’ll be fine with it.”
Bersin’s comfort in the Carolina offense has been evident, and Proehl says this contentment has allowed Bersin to be consistent and find holes in the defense’s coverage much like he did when he played.
During 9-on-9s on Tuesday, quarterback Cam Newton progressed through his reads before Bersin spotted an opening in the defense, slid past safety Colin Jones and hauled in a catch for a big gain. And during Wednesday’s two-minute drill, Bersin darted past safety Tre Boston, left his feet and hauled in a 25-yard touchdown pass from Newton over his back shoulder. “He’s on fire,” yelled Newton as Bersin left the field.
“Being here for my fourth year, I don’t really have to think anymore,” Bersin said. “I know all of the positions on offense. I can do anything they ask me to do. That helps, and it just gives me more confidence.”
Bersin’s understanding of the Panthers’ offense has allowed him to focus on other aspects of his game this offseason. He says he’s continuously trying to improve on the fundamentals, specifically route running.
And while Proehl still sees room for improvement, he says Bersin’s progress and the work he’s put in over the past three years is starting to pay off.
“He just kept developing as a receiver, kept getting more confidence, kept getting stronger and playing more physical,” Proehl said. “Just seeing him last year get the opportunity when he did, Cam had all of the confidence in the world to throw him the ball.
“He made key plays in the course of the game, and that’s what makes you proud as a coach is to see a guy who has worked hard get his opportunity and make the most of it.”