The Carolina Panthers have three new coordinators on offense, defense and special teams this season.
But none of them are exactly “new.”
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner is 66 and has been coaching in the NFL since 1985. Defensive coordinator Eric Washington was Carolina’s defensive line coach from 2011-17 before being promoted this offseason. And special teams coordinator Chase Blackburn, who was promoted in January, was an assistant special teams coach in Carolina since 2016.
The three will make their regular-season debut with the Panthers on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys at Bank of America Stadium.
On Thursday, Washington and Turner addressed the media about some notable tidbits prior to the game:
Curtis Samuel’s reported heart procedure
This week, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that second-year receiver Curtis Samuel had a heart procedure to rectify an irregular heartbeat. He has been ruled out by head coach Ron Rivera for Sunday’s game, but the team has not publicly addressed the situation or confirmed the report. Carolina’s injury report lists Samuel as missing practice with an illness.
Turner, however, did say on Thursday that Samuel’s situation was “temporary,” indicating that the team expects him back in the mix this season.
“I feel bad for Curtis because he has worked awfully hard, and he had an outstanding training camp,” Turner said. “I’m glad it’s a temporary thing and he’ll be back with us, be ready to crank up and pick up where he left off.”
Turner also indicated that the Panthers plan to play all of their remaining five receivers on Sunday — Torrey Smith, Devin Funchess, Jarius Wright, Damiere Byrd and D.J. Moore — meaning none will be a healthy scratch.
A play script?
Carolina scripted its first drives under former offensive coordinator Mike Shula. Turner is amenable to that, to a point.
“We’ve done a script where we’ve had it and stayed on it the first nine plays, and we’ve done a script where we’ve had it and we get off it the second play and go in a completely different direction,” he said. “So it’s more about getting the plays and preparation. You have an idea of what you want to call, but it can change real fast.”
Efficient decision-making in general is a key to Turner’s offense, both from himself and from quarterback Cam Newton, because Turner wants a ton of distribution between playmakers.
“A big part of getting everyone involved is the quarterback making good decisions,” he said before referencing Carolina’s preseason victory over New England. “Cam did a great job of getting the ball down (underneath) to Christian (McCaffrey) when things were covered up upfield. He made some throws up the field when they were worried about our backs underneath.
“So we need to do that throughout an entire game and make good decisions and we’ll get everyone involved.”
Washington on stopping the run
Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott will be a hefty load for the Panthers’ defensive line on Sunday.
“We just have to make sure that in terms of the things we emphasize and focus on, that it starts with us,” Washington said. “Our fundamentals, our readiness for this kind of a challenge.
“It’s going to take all 11 guys. It won’t be just one person. It won’t be one position group. It’s going to be a group effort.”
Washington said that since Elliott, who has rushed for 2,614 yards and 22 touchdowns in 25 games over the past two seasons, is so hard to take down, he wants his players to swarm to the attack point.
“When you watch him operate, the first player that makes contact with him frequently, it takes two or three players to get him down,” Washington said. “So those things start to add up. ... We have to make sure that we tackle by committee, that we do a great job with our gap integrity and we force the ball sideways so that we can rally guys to the point of attack.”
Rivera on importance of special teams
The Panthers announced their team captains on Thursday morning. Notably, special teams stalwart Colin Jones joined a list of tenured offensive and defensive players that included quarterback Cam Newton, linebacker Luke Kuechly, center Ryan Kalil, defensive end Julius Peppers and tight end Greg Olsen.
Along with naming Jones a captain, Rivera wants special teams recognized out of the introductory tunnel during every third home game.
“When people talk about (special teams) being a third of the game, we as coaches have got to make sure we show those guys more than just lip service,” Rivera said.