While Carolina Panthers rookie running back Christian McCaffrey was getting 21 touches in his regular-season debut last week at San Francisco, the only time fellow rookie Curtis Samuel touched the ball was in warmups.
Samuel, the second-round pick from Ohio State, was the Panthers’ primary kick returner in Week 1. But he only had two chances in the 23-3 victory, and both times Bradley Pinion’s kicks sailed out of the end zone.
Samuel played a total of 20 snaps against the 49ers – 12 on offense and eight on special teams. He was not targeted as a wide receiver.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Samuel will get the chance to return kicks again Sunday against Buffalo. And even if they all go for touchbacks, Rivera expects Samuel to make an impact.
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“He’s been terrific. He plays on most of the special teams now, too,” Rivera said Friday. “You talk about a guy that’s grasped his situation and just said, ‘Wow, this is really cool.’ He’s been a young pro, he really has. I’m kind of fired up to watch him.”
McCaffrey, the first-round pick from Stanford, averaged 2.3 yards on three punt returns last week after having a 21-yard runback negated by a penalty.
McCaffrey was targeted seven times as a receiver against the 49ers, caught five passes for 38 yards and had 13 carries for 47 yards.
But Rivera took exception with the notion the Panthers force-fed McCaffrey in the opener, saying part of the reason he was so heavily involved was to give coaches – are you listening, Sean McDermott? – more to work on.
“Everybody talks about they’ve got all these packages for one guy. No, you don’t. You just have the guy in and it may start with him,” Rivera said. “But if they give you a different look, you’re not going to force it. ... This is our offense. Personnel groupings is the difference.”