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Avant: Panthers don't need big-name WRs to win

Photo: Nell Redmond

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton throws a pass during NFL football practice in Charlotte, N.C. on Tuesday, June 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jason Avant knows the Panthers lack a high profile wide receiver.

But that doesn't concern the eight-year NFL veteran wideout, who says there's no reason Carolina can't win a Super Bowl this year.

Avant said people spend too much time ''worrying about names.''

He doesn't.

Avant points out that last year's Seattle Seahawks and the dominant New England Patriots from the early Tom Brady years as teams that won championships without recognizable wide receivers.

''Seattle didn't have a whole bunch of receivers that everybody knew,'' Avant said. ''They had (Percy) Harvin who played basically one game (in the Super Bowl). You look at all of the Patriots teams and they basically had David Givens out there. They have guys out there that you most people don't even remember their names.''

General manager Dave Gettleman is hoping to follow that blueprint.

Carolina parted ways with the team's top four wide receivers from 2013, including star Steve Smith, the franchise's all-time leader in receptions, yards receiving and touchdowns.

The Panthers replaced Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon with free agents Avant, Jerricho Cotchery and Tiquan Underwood. They also drafted Kelvin Benjamin from Florida State in the first round to pair with young receivers like Brenton Bersin, Tavarres King and Marvin McNutt, who they're hoping will take the next step and surprise during the preseason.

Still, the changes haven't set all that well with a restless fan base that was hoping the Panthers would look to build on last year's 12-4 season - not completely gut an entire position - and reach the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time ever.

Quarterback Cam Newton said last week he's well aware of the criticism, saying the perception of Carolina's wide receivers is they're the ''sorriest (group) in the NFL.''

Newton said he doesn't buy that.

He said the receivers have approached the offseason with a ''fire in their eyes'' and with incentive to go out and prove everyone wrong.

''It's kind of like a slap in not only their face, but my face as well,'' Newton said.

Newton hasn't had much experience working with his new batch of wide receivers. He hasn't practiced since undergoing ankle surgery in March.

Trainers kept him out of the first day of the team's mandatory three-day minicamp Tuesday and Rivera said the fourth-year quarterback will not participate in team drills until training camp. Newton worked on three- and five-step drops and did some light throwing on the side.

Cotchery, who caught 10 touchdown passes last season for the Pittsburgh Steelers in his 10th NFL season, believes this is a better collection of receivers than most people think.

But he's was quick to add ''you're not going to convince anyone how good you are by talking. We have to go out and put in the work. That is what this group is doing. Once we get on the field we'll have a better idea of where we are.''

Rivera, for one, is looking forward to that day.

''I'm real excited about who we have with us right now,'' Rivera said.

He said Avant and Cotchery have taken on a leadership role, and Underwood brings some vertical speed the team will miss following the departure of Ginn.

What the Panthers don't have is a No. 1 receiver to replace Smith, although Rivera has said repeatedly that's not a necessity. However, he hopes the Benjamin, who has been impressive so far in OTAs and minicamp, develops into Newton's go-to receiver.

''I think his development is good right now,'' Rivera said. ''We're throwing a lot at him right now and he's doing well.''

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AP NFL website www.pro32.ap.org

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Follow Steve Reed on Twitter: http://twitter.com/SteveReedAP

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