Monday’s cosmic event might eclipse the positive Panthers news in Charlotte, but at the practice fields of Bank of America Stadium the biggest story was the workload of two key players.
Panthers rookie receiver Curtis Samuel is fully active in practice again, for the first time since the opening night of training camp last month. The rookie’s return might have been overshadowed by quarterback Cam Newton, who participated in every drill for the first time since the first week of training camp.
Samuel, Carolina’s second-round draft pick and future slot specialist, has been recovering from a hamstring strain. He has worked his way up from complete rest to throwing with trainers and Newton the final week of training camp in Spartanburg, to a full workout Monday morning.
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“It was very good, he looked good,” coach Ron Rivera said of Samuel after practice. Rivera said Samuel knew where he needed to line up and had a good handle on his routes despite being largely unable to participate in much of the live drills the past several weeks.
“I feel pretty good,” Samuel said after practice. “I’m not proud that I got hurt. I won’t say it was really a setback because I had time to really study the playbook. ...Me being out for a little bit, I was able to really study the playbook and really try to learn the ins and outs so I could give myself a chance to be able to give myself the best chance to play as soon as possible.”
To have Samuel and Newton back at the same time, with the additional presence of rookie running back Christian McCaffrey, offered a look at the offense more akin to totality than seen in previous weeks, if still not yet completely so.
“This is just a little microcosm of it, because you can’t simulate the game speed,” said Rivera. “And so the biggest thing really is just getting them all out there. And hopefully we can get them all out there. If not, we’ll see what happens next week.”
Rivera is unsure whether Samuel will play Thursday against Jacksonville in Carolina’s third preseason exhibition. He wants to avoid throwing Samuel into a game “from zero to 50,” to decrease the possibility of re-injury.
“We want to be safe with that,” said Rivera. “We’ll take a good look. If he has a good day tomorrow, then we’ll consider and talk about it as coaches tomorrow afternoon.”
Newton isn’t completely ruled out of participating, however.
Rivera said after Carolina’s exhibition loss against Tennessee last weekend that Newton’s status for the Jaguars game will be determined strictly by how the quarterback is feeling, but that his progress has been “trending up.”
Rivera said they would continue to monitor any potential soreness in Newton’s surgically-repaired shoulder, and that Newton’s workload might increase during Tuesday’s practice. The team has Wednesday off to travel.
“Then we’ll re-evaluate him as coaches, and we’ll see how he feels,” said Rivera. “But we’re feeling good about (his progress)”
Rivera said Newton did remark to him after practice that he felt his timing was a little off.
While the quarterback opened team drills with a 20-yard touchdown strike to tight end Greg Olsen, he was also picked off by linebacker Thomas Davis late in the practice – something the veteran was probably looking forward to having the opportunity to do, after a chatty yet inactive spring and summer camp from Newton.
“Oh, yeah,” Rivera said, grinning. “As competitive as those guys are with one another, to get that today, he’ll probaby rub it in in the locker room.”