Norv Turner, the Carolina Panthers’ offensive coordinator, makes quite the statement every day with how he structures this team’s offense. But after Monday’s training camp practice at Wofford College, Turner spoke to reporters for the first time this summer.
“I’ve been trying to avoid y’all — not in a negative way — but they (Panthers media team) got me,” Turner joked, cracking a small grin while he did.
Turner might not have wanted too long with the media, but his comments on everything from Cam Newton to play installation were thoughtful and articulate.
And considering Turner is this team’s offensive mastermind, his remarks offer more insight into the potential this Panthers offense has and the aspects of his job he’s most focused on now. Specifically, here are the five topics Turner was most effusive on — and how what he said translates directly to the field:
1. Cam Newton still Superman, only smarter
In an interview with NBC Sports’ Peter King, Newton said that he realizes he somewhat has to change his game as he continues getting older. “At this point in my career, it’s not about velocity,” Newton told King. “It’s not about throwing a ball 70 yards. It’s about efficient football that’s gonna win football games.”
Some took Newton’s quote to mean that he won’t play with the same Superman-like tendencies he always has, running the ball less and taking better care of his throwing shoulder, on which he had arthroscopic surgery in January.
Turner, however, put that notion to rest.
“Are you believing that?” Turner retorted when asked about King’s interview. “Wait till the first game.
“Wait till it’s third-and-goal on about the 4 and he takes off and dives over about five guys. You know what I mean? We know the way he can play.”
Turner said Newton has continued working on his reads within the offense this summer. That’s a continuation of what Turner and son Scott, the team’s quarterbacks coach, preached to Newton upon their arrival in Carolina before the 2018 season.
“He’s got a great feel for our offense. I think he’s doing a great job of seeing what’s happening, and he said that during the middle of the year after that Seattle game where he felt like everything slowed down so good for him,” Turner continued. “Obviously part of his game is the physical nature of the game — running the ball, making plays in the zone read stuff, the RPOs (run-pass option plays) — and we’re not going to take that away from him. We don’t need to do it right now and we’ll pick our spots.
“(He) understands that he has a lot of talented guys around him, and he’s doing a great job in these first five days of spreading the ball to everyone.”
2. No coincidence Curtis Samuel’s breakout comes with good health
While Curtis Samuel has been one of the breakout stars of this summer for the Panthers, Turner said it’s no coincidence that outburst has come after the third-year receiver got healthy.
“This doesn’t happen overnight,” Turner said. “When I got here, Curtis couldn’t do anything in the spring. He missed most of training camp, he played in the third preseason game, then he had his procedure and he missed another month. You don’t get better if you’re not out here practicing.
“Obviously he grew as the season went on, but still was limited with the number of snaps he could take. He’s in great condition, he goes through an entire practice like everyone else. We don’t have to take him out or take care of him, so to speak.
“He’s becoming an outstanding route-runner.”
3. The ‘misunderstood’ Christian McCaffrey statistic
Just like coach Ron Rivera, Turner would prefer the Panthers find some help for star running back Christian McCaffrey.
But that said, Turner said Sunday that the team isn’t looking to reduce McCaffrey’s workload.
“It’s one of the more misunderstood things, because I think there were four or five guys (last season) that had more touches (than Christian),” Turner said. “I’m concerned about Christian’s touches, and he had about 320. The carries take more out of you than the completions. He had about 210 carries — I’ve had six different guys that had over 400 touches. So he’s not even close to some of the guys I’ve been with.”
McCaffrey had 326 total touches last season, third-most in the NFL behind Ezekiel Elliott (381) and Saquon Barkley (352). On those touches, he had 219 carries for 1,098 yards and 107 receptions for 867 yards.
As for Turner’s history with running backs, many of the top stars he’s worked with — Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and LaDainian Thomlinson, Adrian Peterson, Frank Gore, Ricky Williams — have eclipsed the 400-touch mark.
So, what does that mean for McCaffrey?
He’s still going to be the Panthers’ do-everything piece, even if one of Cameron Artis-Payne or Jordan Scarlett does occasionally spells him.
“(Christian) was on the field 90 percent of the time, and that’s documented. A lot of the times, he’s running the swing, he’s getting out of the way, whatever,” Turner said. “We need to get someone else on the field, but we’re not going to minimize his carries or touches. He’s a dynamic player. He’s one of the most dynamic players in the league.”
4. Biggest Year 1 to Year 2 difference?
Turner said the Panthers will have 10 install periods over the first 2 1/2 weeks of training camp, and those are the times when the team can practice the majority of the playbook. That includes reteaching some old principles, but also incorporating new concepts to keep pace with offensive innovators throughout the NFL.
And now in his second season in Carolina, Turner is hoping that overall, players have a better grasp on more concepts than they did this time a year ago.
“I always tell people there’s about 20 percent of what we’re doing that’s new. You’re trying to look at what other people are doing, trying to be creative,” Turner said. “But I think what happens to you in your second year, you’re better at more things. I mean I tell these guys — they know it — if we do something in practice and we don’t execute it well, it’s not getting called in the game.
“So the more things you execute at a high level, the more things you’re good at, the more opportunities you’re gonna get.”
5. Early impressions of Will Grier (and mythbusting his critics)
When the Panthers picked Will Grier in the third round of this year’s NFL Draft, the selection came with criticism about the former West Virginia quarterback’s arm strength.
But through the first five days of training camp, Grier’s touch on deep passes has been one of his stronger traits. What Turner said reflects more on draft critics than anything, but also shows one of the things he values in his quarterbacks.
“There’s a lot of different ways people evaluate arm strength, and most people look at how hard the ball’s going,” Turner said, “and that’s the last thing we care about.
“His ball carries through the air, it doesn’t die on him. If you watch his tape, he threw multiple touchdown passes where the ball traveled 45-50 yards in the air — that’s as far as you need it to go. He’s got plenty of arm to do the things we want him to do, and that’s what we really liked about him.”