For years after the accident, small shards of glass would occasionally surface and break through the skin near Jerricho Cotchery’s left wrist – jagged reminders of the 1998 car crash that nearly killed him but also saved his life.

Cotchery was 15 at the time of the wreck, headed down the wrong path on the northside streets of Birmingham, Ala.

The accident left Cotchery’s friend dead and left Cotchery with a heightened sense of self and spirituality that helped shape him into a man of faith.

Cotchery, the former N.C. State standout who is part of the Carolina Panthers’ revamped receiving corps, has played 10 NFL seasons and has made the playoffs in five of them.

He had back-to-back, 82-catch seasons early in his career with the Jets, and posted an 1,100-yard receiving year in New York.

Last year in Pittsburgh when he was 31, Cotchery caught a career-high 10 touchdown passes as Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite red-zone target.

But talk to Panthers’ coaches or front-office personnel about Cotchery and one of the first things they mention is his eagerness to work with the team’s young receivers. It was Steve Smith’s perceived unwillingness to help develop the younger wideouts that played a part in the Panthers’ decision to release their all-time receiving leader.

Where Smith was loud and boisterous, Cotchery is quiet and reserved.

Smith, now with the Baltimore Ravens, punctuated his catches by spinning the ball and was often in the face (or faces) of teammates and opposing players alike.

Cotchery’s wife said he’s spun the ball once – 10 years ago as a rookie after his 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against St. Louis.

While Cotchery spoke in measured tones last week about the “workmanlike” approach he plans to bring to the Panthers’ locker room, he knows the nice-guy reputation that precedes him and fellow free-agent receiver Jason Avant will only mean so much come September.

“We’ll do whatever we can to help this group get better,” Cotchery said. “But at the same time, we were brought here to make plays.”