(Eds: With AP Photos.)|
By STEVE REED
AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Ted Ginn Jr. has never liked being labeled a ``specialist.''
Now the six-year NFL veteran is looking to take advantage of a ``fresh start'' with the Carolina Panthers and prove to critics he can still play wide receiver in the NFL and be more than just a returner.
Ginn, the ninth overall pick in the 2007 draft, left the San Francisco 49ers this offseason as a free agent after what he called a ``tough season.'' Although the 49ers reached the Super Bowl, Ginn was pretty much a non-factor in the passing game, catching only two passes.
He was used in the return game, primarily on kickoffs, but Ginn said he's ready to contribute more.
``I want to show the world that I can still play receiver,'' Ginn said. ``I got kind of bashed over the years, being labeled a specialist.''
It wasn't always that way.
During his first three seasons in the league with the Miami Dolphins, Ginn averaged 43 receptions and was used frequently as a ball carrier on reverses, as well as on special teams as a kickoff and punt returner.
But it wasn't enough production for the Dolphins, who traded Ginn to the 49ers for a fifth-round draft pick after three seasons.
Over the last three seasons in San Francisco, Ginn's playing time in the offense dwindled.
He caught 31 passes in his first two seasons in the Bay Area before disappearing almost completely in 2012. This past year he fumbled four times, losing three, which didn't help matters.
But he still can't pinpoint why he never really got much of a shot on offense.
``You kind of get caught up in the politics a little bit, that side of the game,'' Ginn said. ``You just have to roll with the punches and keep your name clean and your name right.
He's eager for a fresh start.
``I want to get back on track,'' Ginn said. ``Last year was a tough season. We went to the Super Bowl. But individually, I didn't feel like I got the proper reps I was supposed to.''
Ginn has impressed the Panthers so far in OTAs and minicamp and has coach Ron Rivera and quarterback Cam Newton singing his praises.
During Tuesday's practice Ginn turned heads when he raced down the sidelines, beat his defender and hauled in a perfectly thrown ball from Newton in stride for a touchdown. His offensive teammates roared with approval.
``Ted has been a spark,'' Newton said. ``Everyone knows he's fast. I found that out the hard way.''
Newton points to a practice where Ginn outran one of his throws and had to slow down to try to make the catch.
``He kind of embarrassed me so I told him, `Ted, from now on you will never outrun my football,''' Newton said with a laugh. ``So if y'all see a pass and it's overthrown and No. 19 is the intended receiver, just know that it's pride more than anything with him. He will not outrun my football.''
The Panthers are still practicing in shorts, so there's only so much you can tell about the players.
But Rivera said he's been impressed with Ginn's speed.
``That's part of the reason he's here, obviously. We know that with his speed he can blow the lid off, and he's showing it,'' Rivera said. ``But it also helps on quick underneath routes because with his speed, he gets the ball, sticks his leg in the ground, makes a cut and goes vertical. A 5-yard pass can turn into a 25-yard gain before you know it.''
Where Ginn might fit in the offense remains a mystery.
Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell are locked in as the starters, while the team signed Domenik Hixon from the New York Giants to compete with Ginn and others for the No. 3 receiver spot.
``Coming to Carolina, we have a great squad and a great team here,'' Ginn said. ``I'm just trying to come out and show them my talent and provide what I can provide on special teams, as well as at receiver.''