Former NFL coach Bill Cowher thinks the hiring of new Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner will help take quarterback Cam Newton’s game to another level.
But Cowher thinks Newton needs something else this offseason, as well – a big-time speed receiver to stretch the field.
Cowher, the Super Bowl-winning former coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, likes the addition of Turner to Ron Rivera’s staff. Cowher said Turner has some solid pieces to work with in Newton, running back Christian McCaffrey, tight end Greg Olsen, and wideout Devin Funchess.
What Turner doesn’t have is a bona fide No. 1 receiver, according to Cowher.
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“I don’t think there’s any question about that. You look at Funchess and (former Panthers wideout Kelvin) Benjamin, if you didn’t know their numbers they look like the same player,” Cowher said Tuesday during a CBS conference call.
“They need to stretch the field. I love their running back. He’s been a special kid. You know what they are on the defensive side of the ball. So I think getting some speed to be able to create more of a vertical game would be a great complement to Funchess.”
After the Panthers traded Benjamin to Buffalo for a pair of draft picks, Funchess averaged a little more than five catches and 86.5 receiving yards over the next four games.
But playing with a shoulder injury and drawing extra coverage, Funchess slumped over the final four regular-season games, averaging just more than two catches and 34.5 receiving yards per game.
Complicating matters were the losses of young speed receivers Curtis Samuel and Damiere Byrd to season-ending injuries.
During an interview with the Observer last week, Rivera conceded the Panthers needed another receiver to emerge – “whether it’s going to be Damiere or one of those other guys.”
But Cowher did not sound convinced the answer is on the Panthers’ roster.
“McCaffrey, Funchess, Olsen – they need one more guy on the outside that can give them a vertical threat,” Cowher said. “I think that will be something they’re looking for, whether it’s free agency or the draft.”
Turner, 65, was out of the NFL this past season after leaving his post as Minnesota’s offensive coordinator in 2016, citing differences in philosophy with Vikings coach Mike Zimmer.
Turner has drawn praise for his work with quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Philip Rivers, among others, over the course of his 32-year coaching career.
And Cowher believes Turner will be good for Newton as he moves into the next phase of his career. Newton, who turns 29 in May, has seen his productivity slip in the two years since his MVP season – a big reason why Mike Shula was fired last week.
“When you look at what you have with Cam, you see a lot of the physical skills he has in terms of his ability to run with the football, his arm strength, his competitiveness,” Cowher said. “I think what Norv is bringing to him is maybe a complete understanding of the passing game, of the quarterback position from a play-action standpoint.”
Cowher, 60, who retired in 2007 after 15 seasons, thinks Turner will help Newton become a stronger pocket passer.
“Norv, he’s been around the game for a long time. I think his experience … (can) take Cam to the next level and become a more complete quarterback within the pocket,” Cowher said during a conference call previewing CBS’ coverage of the AFC Championship Game.
“He’s always going to have that dynamic that he has to make him special. But allow that to be secondary, and I think first and foremost to take his quarterback skill level to another level that allows him to have sustainability in this league.”