CHARLOTTE - Robby Anderson knew Teddy Bridgewater before they both landed with the Panthers as free agents in the spring. They both hail from South Florida and spent time together during the 2018 offseason while they were with the Jets.
But after the wide receiver and quarterback signed with Carolina, they got a lot closer. Through the spring and summer, they spent nearly every day working together on routes and offensive concepts, aided by Bridgewater's prior knowledge of offensive coordinator Joe Brady's scheme.
That work made Anderson think of Bridgewater as more than a teammate or quarterback.
"I would say more than anybody, that's not just my quarterback but more like my coach," Anderson said. "He coaches me on how he wants routes run, certain things at the top of the routes, breaking down the offense, teaching me - just showing me the ins and outs of certain things. And then knowing how he wants things done, it's a lot easier than sometimes necessarily how the coach might tell you because the coach is not playing."
Anderson pointed to a time in the offseason where Brady talked a lot about a particular route, illustrating its importance in the offense. So, Anderson told Bridgewater he wanted to master it.
"We spent multiple days working on that particular route, really getting the timing down," Anderson said. "He kept shooting me texts about showing me certain things, how to run certain routes, just breaking it down. He was always giving me gems to get better."
He didn't want to reveal the route and get too far into trade secrets. But the trust those two built in those months has paid off.
Bridgewater recalled that much of the time they worked together, he'd put Anderson in the slot so he could run different routes. Bridgewater would also sometimes slow things down, just to give Anderson a better feel.
"I think it was always in him," Bridgewater said. "All you ask for is an opportunity to do different things."
After four seasons with the Jets, Anderson hit free agency with a reputation for being one-dimensional. Critics would say he all he could do was run in a straight line.
But that never made sense to him.
"Anybody that really knows football could tell you this - the hardest ball to catch in football is the deep ball," Anderson said. "So when everybody would always say, 'Well, he's only a deep threat. He can only catch deep passes. He can't catch short routes.' It just sounds stupid because if I can catch a deep pass and that's 30, 40, 50 yards down the field, however many yards in the air, what makes you think I can't catch a short pass?"
That's the opportunity Anderson was looking for, and while it's only been five games, Anderson's 2020 season has made the pundits look foolish.
Entering Week 6, Anderson is No. 4 in receiving yards (489) tied for No. 4 in receptions (36), setting a franchise record in the category for the first five games of a season. He's gone from getting 3.3 receptions per game in four years with the Jets to 7.2 receptions per game. His catch percentage is up from 54.2 to 78.3, and he's well on his way to eclipsing 1,000 yards receiving for the first time. Even in his best season of 2017, Anderson averaged 58.8 yards per game to finish with 941. Through five games, Anderson is averaging 97.8, putting him on pace for 1,565 yards in 16 games.
But one of the best stats to illustrate the diversification of Anderson's route running is YAC. In his best season of 2017, he registered 273 yards after the catch. In no other season did he even reach 200 yards.
This year, that number is already at 223.
"That's something that I really strive to perfect is my routes, getting open, and doing those types of things," Anderson said. "That's football, and it's fun to do that, to route somebody up and do open, and do those things and run and catch."
It's not the biggest sample size, but the evidence points to Anderson having a point about how New York schemed for him.
"Everybody's entitled to their opinion, that's something I learned over my career. I never really let it upset me," Anderson said. "It upset me more when my coaches wouldn't let me do certain things when I knew that obviously, I could, and I could make an impact doing it. But it is what it is. I'm focused on now, and I'm just happy to be able to run the route tree, do a lot of intermediate things, and catch and run and really play football."
Brady compared Anderson's one-route-wideout reputation to a quarterback being called a game manager.
"Sometimes people get labeled things, but we don't know who's actually labeling them," Brady said. "If you turn on the tape and you watch Robbie Anderson, there's not a route he doesn't run. Sometimes it's hard trying to not give him the ball because he can do a little bit of everything.
"I don't think Robby Anderson is whatever he might be perceived, and I think he's showcasing that right now."
As evidenced by one more stat:
In his final two seasons with the Jets, Anderson averaged 15.2 yards per target. This year, that number is down to 9.4, which means he's doing a lot more than just running in a straight line.
Between having Bridgewater as a quarterback, Brady as an offensive coordinator, and Matt Rhule as his head coach, Anderson believes Carolina is the perfect environment for him. He's grateful he's received his shot to make an impact, and he's glad his contributions are leading to first downs, touchdowns, and victories.
But it all started with Anderson building trust and chemistry with Bridgewater.
"I know if I listen to him, the ball is going to be there," Anderson said. "It's as simple as that."