SPARTANBURG — If you go to the Carolina Panthers’ training camp, there are things you notice: late mornings hot enough to make a mannequin sweat; nasty little bugs at evening practices; Jared Green getting open.
That’s Green, an undrafted rookie receiver, running a post pattern. That’s Cam Newton throwing the ball flat-footed at least 50 yards, the prettiest spiral of camp. The ball is in the air so long it’s as if somebody hit pause so he could watch later. Finally the ball lands in the hands of Green.
Minutes later Newton is intercepted by middle linebacker Jon Beason. Beason has momentum and, if you know him, one purpose: score. Nobody is close to him.
Green runs him down six yards short of the end zone.
“Most people can’t catch me,” says Beason, breathing hard. “But Darrell Green’s son is fast.”
If this season goes the way Darrell Green expects, Jared no longer will be known as his son. He’ll be known as a Panther.
You remember Darrell. A former cornerback for the Washington Redskins, he four times was all-pro and in 2008 was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. Jared introduced him.
Darrell, who ran the 40 in 4.29 seconds, was the fastest man in the NFL.
Jared, who runs the 40 in 4.33 seconds, might be the fastest man in Spartanburg.
“I don’t know, I don’t know, I’m not sure yet,” says Jared Green, who at 6-1 is four inches taller than his father. “I’m sure there will be guys who object to that. I do feel that I’m a pretty fast guy so if we raced that’d be pretty cool.”
Jared played flag football as a kid, but his parents did not allow him to play in pads until ninth grade. Jared played high school ball outside Washington D.C. and, after being redshirted as a freshman, three seasons at Virginia. He graduated with a degree in anthropology.
His receiving numbers declined his junior year, and he played his final season for former NFL running back Stump Mitchell at Southern.
Yet, in many ways he was home-schooled. Green worked with his father on football intricacies and conditioning, and he trained with family friends who happened to be legendary receivers - Art Monk and Michael Irvin. He learned from James Thrash, a craftsman of a receiver.
In camp, Green has majored in Steve Smith.
“I study Steve Smith every day,” Green says. “I study him on the field and I study him off the field. I study the way he prepares and I watch his routes and I watch his techniques and I watch his aggression and I like his aggression. That’s probably the number one thing I like to take from him – the passion in his routes. I feel that I run good routes but I’d like to break through that wall of passion and aggression to where you could see that there’s a huge mission to be accomplished every time I run a route.”
Panther coach Ron Rivera praises Green. He says Green learns and listens and has steadily improved. How do you impress a potential employer? Improve. And if you can get open deep, and run down Beason, that’s good, too.
“I’m very excited about the fact that I’m the underdog, the undrafted free agent, the kid nobody knew about in college,” Green says. “I have an edge without having to create one.”
The Panthers, however, typically keep no more than six receivers. Can Green be one of them?
“Yeah,” says Carolina general manager Hurney. “Yeah. We’ve got a long way to go. But it’s hard to find guys who can run like that. He’s got great bloodlines. Not only is Darrell one of the terrific people you’ll meet, but he was a pro. And his son has a lot of those qualities.”
Darrell Green and his wife, Jewel, didn’t want their son to idolize athletes simply because they could play. There had to be more. When Jared wanted to put a poster on his bedroom wall, he had to explain what the athlete meant to him.
A.C. Green made the wall. Although Green played for the legendary Showtime Los Angeles Lakers there was nothing showy about him.
“We raised Jared to be Godly and to be humble,” Darrell Green, 52, says by telephone.
They raised him to play good football, too.
“He can do this,” the elder Green says. “That’s Darrell Green the scout talking. Jared has integrity, commitment, hunger and opportunity, and he’s with a good organization - all that any kid should want.”
Jared and I sit in soft chairs in the student center at Wofford. He’s engaging and gracious.
But he’s a receiver. Receivers depend on the kindness of the quarterback. They can run a beautiful route. Yet if they don’t get the ball who will know? If their stats aren’t talking, the receiver often does. Receivers lead the league in divas.
Our conversation is about to end.
There’s not going to be a diva moment, is there?
“No, no,” Green says more quickly than he has said anything. “If that was ever there my dad got it out as soon as possible.”
Fans might forget that Jared is Darrell’s son, Jared won’t.