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 CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -Asked why he's been on the inactive list for the first two games of his career, Dwayne Jarrett took a step back and shrugged his shoulders.
``To tell you the truth, I really don't know,'' the Carolina Panthers rookie receiver said Thursday. ``They really haven't told me anything. All I can really control is for me to just keep practicing hard. Eventually, hopefully I get to show what I can do - soon.''
Jarrett has never experienced anything like this. Highly recruited out of New Brunswick, N.J., he rewrote the record books at Southern California, finishing with a school record 216 catches for 3,138 yards. His 41 touchdown catches were a Pac-10 record - and he did it in only three years.
The Panthers took him in the second round of the draft, where moments later Carolina's Keyshawn Johnson - then moonlighting as an ESPN analyst - gushed he was ``much like me.''
Turned out, Johnson would soon become a full-time analyst. The Panthers released him four days later, and the 6-foot-4 Jarrett was expected to replace him as the big, possession receiver opposite the small and speedy Steve Smith.
Instead, Jarrett has struggled. He was slowed by a hamstring injury early in training camp and fellow USC alum Keary Colbert secured the starting job. Then receivers coach Richard Williamson referred to him as ``Tinkerbell,'' challenging him to ``knock those guys around, get off the line of scrimmage.''
Jarrett, who just turned 21 last week, is finally healthy. But now there are rumblings about his mental preparedness.
``This is probably the first time in his life he hasn't had a uniform,'' quarterback Jake Delhomme said. ``That's the NFL. You're talented and everything, but it's that mental grind. This is a long season. It's not only physical and extremely brutal, but mentally it's tough. You've got to stay focused and that's one thing we want to see with him. This is a test for him right now.''
Because Jarrett doesn't play special teams, the coaching staff has decided to make him one of the seven required inactive players in the first two games. While his teammates have hit the field, Jarrett has been in street clothes.
``It's a new challenge. I've never been in this situation before,'' Jarrett said. ``I can't convince the coaches into throwing me in there or trying to ask them why I'm not in there. That's not my place. I can just control what I do.''
Jarrett could get a chance Sunday at Atlanta. The two receivers in front of him - Colbert and Drew Carter - combined to drop four passes in the Panthers' loss to Houston.
With Smith accounting for more than half the receiving yardage, the Panthers desperately need a reliable receiver to take pressure off him. Delhomme remarked several times that Jarrett catches the ball well.
But Jarrett said he hasn't been told if he'll play against the Falcons, while coach John Fox was evasive when asked if Jarrett is ready.
``If you are on the 53-man roster, you're close,'' Fox said.
Jarrett insists he's not overwhelmed by the pro game, and he thinks he could contribute. Yet he's also not going to campaign for a jersey on Sunday.
``I don't know what it is with the coaches, if they feel I'm not doing something right or if I need to learn more,'' Jarrett said. ``Coming in, coach Fox always told me to just keep working hard and stuff like that. Hopefully, eventually I'll be able to get out there.''
Notes: S Deke Cooper (groin), DE Stanley McClover (thigh) and LB Adam Seward (calf) missed practice for a second straight day Thursday. ... S Nate Salley, who was placed on injured reserve Wednesday, said he damaged the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Salley was injured the first week of training camp and tried to come back to practice twice in the past two months, only to aggravate the problem. Now he's just trying to avoid surgery. ``I think I might have rushed it a little bit,'' he said.
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