CHARLOTTE — This was supposed to be the year wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett began living up to the potential the Carolina Panthers saw when they picked him in the second round of the 2007 draft.
In training camp, quarterback Jake Delhomme was quick to say Jarrett was making huge strides.
But now that winter has set in on a long, disappointing season, Jarrett's status with the Panthers doesn't appear to have improved.
Perhaps most telling was that Jarrett was deactivated for this past weekend's game against the Minnesota Vikings so the Panthers could take a closer look at some younger players, including receivers Kenneth Moore and Charly Martin.
Jarrett said coaches told him early last week he would be inactive because of an "evaluation process toward the end of the season, pretty much [where they are] looking at which guys they're going to keep, which are going to leave, that type of thing."
So instead of being an integral part of the offense, Jarrett didn't get a jersey for only the second time this season. The other time, two weeks earlier for a home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jarrett was nursing a sore ankle.
It's now legitimate to question whether Jarrett will be back next season. He has one year remaining on his contract at a relative modest price (by NFL standards) of $550,000, but his pay isn't guaranteed.
"That's out of my control," Jarrett said Wednesday. "I can't really do anything about that except keep doing my job and keep working hard and trying to get better every day."
Jarrett said he believes he has improved significantly in his three pro seasons, but his statistics show only moderate growth. After catching 16 passes for 192 yards the first two seasons, he has 12 receptions for 128 yards this season.
He hasn't scored a touchdown in three seasons after having 41 TDs during his All-American college career at Southern California. He's one of only two receivers among the 17 selected in the first three rounds of the '07 draft who haven't scored a pro touchdown.
He has only three career catches of 20 or more yards, including a 24-yarder two weeks ago against the New York Jets.
Jarrett doesn't deny that he's frustrated.
"Of course, I'd lie if I said I wasn't, but it's part of the game," he said. "Some players have to go through it. Some players don't have to go through it. I'm just being patient."
Jarrett was more highly regarded coming out of college than former Trojans teammate Steve Smith, also a receiver. Jarrett was taken 43rd overall by the Panthers, seven spots ahead of where the New York Giants picked Smith.
But as their teams prepare for Sunday's game at Giants Stadium, Smith is the one enjoying a breakout season. He's tied for fourth in the NFL with 90 catches and is first in receptions resulting in first downs with 36.
Carolina coach John Fox sidestepped the issue of whether the Panthers' displeasure with Jarrett's progress was the reason for his being deactivated.
"I don't get into all that," he said, "but some guys looked like they were showing some good work and we wanted to give them an opportunity."
Jarrett said he believes he will find success, even if it's not with the Panthers.
"I feel like my time is going to come, whether it's here or somewhere else," he said. "I'm not worried about that. I just have to keep working on my skills."
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