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Panthers' new specialist brings something extra special to the game

Punter Johnny Hekker might get to use his arm in 2022.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Punter is probably the lowest position on the Carolina Panthers' priority list ahead of next week's NFL Draft.

First of all, picking a punter is quite rare.

Secondly, Carolina scooped up one of the greatest punters of the last decade in free agency.

All-Pro Johnny Hekker signed a three-year deal with the team in March, just a month removed from winning a Super Bowl with the Rams.

It marks the first time in Hekker's nine-year career that he'll play for another team.

"There's a lot of great things to love about Charlotte, and I'm really excited to be here," Hekker said.

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Hekker's punting accolades are impressive. He's led the league twice in total punting yards, and once in punting average.

He also owns several league records, including a 65-yard boomer that set the mark for longest punt in the Super Bowl.

He's a four-time, first-team All-Pro, and has been selected to four Pro Bowls.

But something extra special this specialist brings to the Panthers? His arm.

"It is something that comes naturally," Hekker said. "I'm hoping to get a couple of more completions under my belt this season."

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Th 32-year-old played quarterback at Bothell High School in Washington, and has completed 14 of 23 passes in the pros. He's thrown for one touchdown and one interception.

Of course, opposing units have keyed in on the skill, so he's had to fine-tune his deception over the years.

"Let your process be the same no matter what you're doing whether you're faking it or not," Hekker said. "There are times when we're not faking it where I'll give an extra shoulder rub or dry my hands off. Just try and make sure that if I do make something slip it's something I've done before on regular punting downs."

The fakes have come on punts, of course, but also field goal/extra point looks, where Hekker has been a holder.

"The butterflies are still there every time a fake gets called," he said. "I'm thinking 'oh man, just two guys playing catch, just like at practice. Don't mess this up or you're not going to get another chance to do it."

Contact Nick Carboni at ncarboni@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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