Sa­muel fi­nally healthy, has speed to spare, and could be game-changer

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Panthers - BY BREN­DAN MARKS [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com Bren­dan Marks: 704-358-5889, @bren­dan­r­marks

Each week the Carolina Pan­thers play in 2018, the Ob­server will choose a po­ten­tial game changer — the player most likely to make a huge im­pact on the game. This week’s choice:

WR CUR­TIS SA­MUEL

So, that was just a taste, huh?

For all the high­light-reel mo­ments dur­ing Carolina’s 33-31 vic­tory over the New York Giants on Sun­day, right up there at the top of the list was Cur­tis Sa­muel’s twist­ing, swirling, tackle-break­ing 25-yard touch­down. It was Sa­muel’s first ca­reer score, a sim­ple tun­nel screen ... and the sec­ondyear re­ceiver took it past half the Giants’ de­fense and into the end zone.

Not too shabby for your first touch­down of the sea­son.

“The coaches put the ball in my hand be­cause they know I can make plays like that,” Sa­muel said this week. “My mind­set was to go score. Once I started break­ing tack­les and once I saw the end zone, it was over.

“There was noth­ing they could do to stop me.”

And although Sa­muel, who is 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, missed the team’s first three games while re­cov­er­ing from a pro­ce­dure to cor­rect an ir­reg­u­lar heart­beat, his re­turn to the lineup couldn’t have come at a bet­ter time for Carolina’s of­fense.

De­spite a plethora of weapons at quar­ter­back Cam New­ton’s dis­posal — ev­ery­one from run­ning back Chris­tian McCaf­frey to re­ceivers Devin Funchess, Tor­rey Smith, Jar­ius Wright, and first-round pick DJ Moore — the Pan­thers’ pass­ing game through four games has been un­der­whelm­ing.

New­ton is throw­ing for just 211 yards per game, giv­ing Carolina the 25th- ranked pass­ing of­fense in the league.

And while New­ton has played well this year, the rea­son for such a de­pre­ci­ated pass­ing of­fense has largely been shorter passes. New­ton’s aver­age pass is for 6.8 yards, also 25th in the NFL.

And the Pan­thers have strug­gled with deep balls.

En­ter Sa­muel, who is fi­nally healthy and has speed to spare.

“That boy is ex­plo­sive,” re­ceiver Devin Funchess said Thurs­day. “It’s good that he came back and showed the world what he has.”

Sa­muel clocked a 4.31 40-yard dash at the 2017 NFL scout­ing com­bine, and he ad­mit­ted that he felt even faster than that the first day he re­turned to prac­tice last week. The hope now is that Sa­muel’s straight-line speed will take the top off of op­pos­ing de­fenses and help un­lock Carolina’s true of­fen­sive po­ten­tial.

First, he has to con­tinue get­ting back into game shape.

Sa­muel only caught one other ball against the Giants for 12 yards, so his fit­ness af­ter a month-long ab­sence is still a work in progress. But so long as Sa­muel keeps mak­ing plays like he did last Sun­day, coaches will be forced to give him more reps, more ac­tion, and more shots called his way.

“You want to get a play started, and then we tell them, ‘We’re try­ing to put you in a po­si­tion where you can use your abil­ity,’” of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Norv Turner said. “Cur­tis has that type of abil­ity. That’s what type of things he did in col­lege, and we’ve just got to con­tinue to work to get him com­fort­able with more and more things so he can get the ball in space and do his thing.”

So, yes, per­haps Sun­day’s score was just a taste of Sa­muel’s po­ten­tial. Scratch­ing the sur­face, if you will.

But how much more does Sa­muel have to show, and how much more of an im­pact can he make for this ver­ti­cal­ly­chal­lenged of­fense?

“You ain’t seen noth­ing yet,” Sa­muel said. “Trust me when I tell you.”

MIKE MCCARN AP

Pan­thers wide re­ceiver Cur­tis Sa­muel dives past the Giants’ Lan­don Collins for a touch­down in the first half last week, on his first re­cep­tion of the sea­son. That game might’ve been just a taste of Sa­muel’s game-chang­ing tal­ent.

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