Tom Sorensen

‘Sweet feet’ can’t quite get Panthers DT Terry Redden to end zone

Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Terry Redden (62) almost returned an interception against the Miami Dolphins into a touchdown on Saturday. Almost.
Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Terry Redden (62) almost returned an interception against the Miami Dolphins into a touchdown on Saturday. Almost. AP

When Terry Redden showed up for his first pee-wee football practice in Memphis, he asked to play running back. Unfortunately, he wasn’t much of a pee-wee.

“You’re too big,” coaches told him.

Redden remained too big in middle school, at Memphis’ Whitehaven High and at Memphis . If he played running back, it was in pickup games. The older he became, the deeper his fullback moves were tucked away.

Redden, 6-2 and 292 pounds, is a defensive tackle. Although he was a standout last season on a team ranked 11th nationally in scoring defense, he was not drafted. The Carolina Panthers signed him in May.

The most thrilling play in Carolina’s 31-30 victory against Miami Saturday occurred after Redden intercepted Josh Freeman’s pass. Finally, his running back moves were unleashed.

“It was spectacular, it was,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera says of the pick. “I thought the runback was better, though. I kind of would have liked to see him score.”

Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson told Redden the same thing.

“He says I left a touchdown out on the field,” Redden says about Johnson.

Barry Sanders probably heard the same thing.

This is what happened.

Three minutes and 10 seconds remain in the Carolina-Miami game and the score is tied at 24. Dolphins quarterback Josh Freeman throws a pass to tight end Jared Bronson.

While contending with blockers, Redden sticks one hand up and plucks the ball from the air. He’s at the Miami 17, but not for long. He runs left, protects the ball with his left arm, and uses his right to direct blockers.

Redden moves like an XXXL fullback. Is it fair to say that inside every defensive lineman a running back lurks?

“I believe so,” says Carolina defensive tackle Kyle Love. “I believe so.”

As Redden heads toward the left sideline, he collects a flying block from safety Marcus Ball. Ball left Memphis the season before Redden arrived.

“Just hustling man, having my boy’s back and trying to get him in the end zone,” Ball says.

Did you know he could run like this?

“I didn’t,” says Ball. “He always said he had sweet feet, but what big guy doesn’t say that?”

Redden’s feet become especially sweet when he suddenly cuts right and then left and then straight at the end zone. He almost squeezes in. But the Dolphins stop him at the 4. Five players participate in the tackle.

The Panthers erupt. Quarterback Cam Newton sprints onto the field. Cornerback Melvin White leaps in the air. Receiver Damiere Byrd jumps so quickly and so often it’s as if he doesn’t like the ground. Rewarded for not leaving, the fans at Bank of America Stadium stand and scream.

“It gave us a tremendous lift,” says Luke Kuechly. “Everybody was so excited.”

Should Redden have scored?

“I can’t say anything about it.” says Kuechly. “Have you seen me run?”

For a moment, the evening no longer is about the first team’s failure to score or to stop Miami from scoring. This is about, after trailing all night, finally announcing: “The Panthers are here, too.”

The play after the pick, Carolina scores the winning touchdown and adds the winning extra point. Are game balls awarded in practice games?

“I was with a guy that was 300 pounds that played running back at one time,” says Rivera, who played linebacker for the Chicago Bears when lineman William “the Refrigerator” Perry played running back. “And that (Redden’s romp) kind of reminded me of when he had the ball.”

Any chance Redden will get a chance to play fullback?

“We’ll see,” says Rivera.

As he walks off the practice field Tuesday, Rivera says: “Every lineman will say he was a fullback and every linebacker will say he was a quarterback.”

Were you a quarterback?

“I was,” he says. “I really was.”