Carolina Panthers

With 5 of 6 WR spots all but set, should still-recovering Curtis Samuel be worried?

Panthers Curtis Samuel glad to be back on the field during first day of OTAs

Carolina Panthers Curtis Samuel is happy to be running routes and competing while working his way back from injury.
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Carolina Panthers Curtis Samuel is happy to be running routes and competing while working his way back from injury.

Second-year Carolina Panthers receiver Curtis Samuel is still recovering from a serious ankle injury suffered last fall, but during Tuesday's first organized team activities, he looked positively dynamic.

A highly anticipated second-round pick out of Ohio State, Samuel struggled with hamstring problems last spring and summer and didn't see the field much. He went on injured reserve after injuring his ankle against Miami and had to have ligament-repair surgery.

Tuesday, he wasn't a full participant in practice. But he ran through receiver drills and then worked on the side with a trainer, showing excellent speed and precision, especially when planting and cutting on button hook or stop-and-go repetitions.

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For a guy who was allowed to run only in a straight line a couple of weeks ago, it's progress.

"I'm out here running routes, running routes with the quarterbacks and doing my own thing on the side," he said. "I feel great."

While the Panthers hope to have him fully active by the start of training camp, neither Samuel nor head coach Ron Rivera is able to give a specific timetable for his recovery. But it's notable that Carolina's coaching staff isn't trying to rush him.

Last season, Samuel's injury was a blow in a bedraggled position group that finished the year featuring backups, an injured Devin Funchess and running back Christian McCaffrey.

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An ankle injury in November against the Miami Dolphins landed Carolina Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel on injured reserve and ended his rookie season. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

This spring, Carolina added veteran deep threat Torrey Smith, third-down and slot specialist Jarius Wright and first-round pick D.J. Moore to go along with a healthy Funchess, Damiere Byrd and tight end Greg Olsen. Six receivers are likely to be on the active roster by September, and with five spots all but sealed, Samuel might feel some pressure to be at full speed by then.

But there has been no indication Rivera and general manager Marty Hurney won't be patient.

"What we're trying to do for all the positions is create that competition and push each other, but Curtis has done a great job and there's no need for him to hurry, rush, put himself in harm's way," said Rivera. "He just needs to continue doing what he's doing and what the trainers ask of him. He's going to be fine."

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Carolina Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel catches a pass against the Miami Dolphins on Nov. 12, 2017, at Bank of America Stadium. Samuel struggled with injuries throughout his rookie season. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

This puts Samuel in an interesting position in a league that often treats players like they're expendable if they can't be of immediate service.

Instead, anything Samuel is able to do on the field this fall seems like it might be a bonus instead of an expectation. That's rare, especially considering the talent now available in the Panthers' receivers room.

And Samuel seems to be keeping the right mindset.

"It's great to be out there running routes again, just excited to be able to catch with the quarterbacks once again," he said Tuesday. "It was exciting; I enjoyed it.

"And I'll take another step tomorrow."

We still don't fully know what Samuel's ability can be in the NFL.

But watching him run routes and catch passes on Tuesday offered a more promising look at his potential than anything he did last season, and he's not fully healthy yet.

He has clearly shown Rivera something, too.

Jourdan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071; @jourdanrodrigue

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