The Panthers have struggled to find a consistent returner. Eight players fielded kicks last year, with none having noticeable success. That’s expected to change this season with the addition of former Pro-Bowler Pharoh Cooper – who looks to bring stability and big-play ability to a special teams group that has missed it..
“Whether it’s a fair catch, 20-yard gain, 50-yard gain, or touchdown; I’m just trying to be explosive every time on punt return and kick return. To have those guys trust me back there, everyone doing their job and we come together as one special teams unit – I just hope to make a lot of plays this year. I look forward to it and I’m excited about it.”
Although the general assumption is Cooper will be used primarily on punt and kick returns, that’s not the only place the five-year pro says he can contribute.
“As a wide receiver, anybody in that room wants to go into that team saying, I want to play wide receiver, I want to make plays, I want to be in on one through third down. Punt returner and kick returner are fun, but I’m a receiver first. Punt return is something I’m good at and can help the team doing it, but obviously I do want to be on the field as a receiver making plays and helping the team up and down the field. When that opportunity comes, I’ll take advantage of it.”
That drive to be known as more than a returner has caught the eye of head coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady.
“He’s had a great camp so far,” Rhule said during a Zoom conference Thursday. “Joe says to me the other day he’s a guy who was brought in as a returner, but has done a really nice job at receiver and can help us as a receiver. He can help us with the run after the catch. He gets open, he knows the routes and he works really hard. I’m really pleased with Pharoh. He’s been one of the guys this camp who has really shown me something.”
Last year with the Cardinals, Cooper had 25 receptions for 243 yards and one touchdown.