Curtis Samuel figured to play a key role in the Carolina Panthers’ shift to a speedy and more explosive offense. Now, he’ll be watching from the sidelines after injuring his left ankle in Monday night’s blowout win over the Miami Dolphins.
The bad news keeps coming for Panther quarterback Cam Newton, who was recently forced to say goodbye to favorite receiving target Kelvin Benjamin. The Panthers gambled on the notion that they would create a more explosive offense without the big-bodied Benjamin plodding his way to the No. 1 receiving role. They preferred the idea of quicker and smaller receivers capable of stretching the field and making defenders miss in open space.
Samuel, the speedster out of Ohio State, was expected to turn into more of a go-to target for Newton without Benjamin. That certainly appeared to be the case in the last two games — he collected a dramatic increase in snap counts. He was on the field for over half of the offensive snaps against the Dolphins, catching five passes for 45 yards.
After the game, Newton talked about losing another promising receiving target who could have helped Carolina chase another division crown and a playoff berth.
“It’s bad. It’s real bad,” said Newton, according to Pro Football Talk. “A person that was on the cusp, it felt like. For him to step up and make crucial catches for us and to get the momentum going, it’s big. I’m staying optimistic about this whole thing, that everything will work out and we’ll still see him sometime this year.”
Newton and the Panthers will have to wait until next year before they see Samuel on the field again. He will undergo season-ending ankle surgery to repair ligament damage, and the Panthers will try to figure out a way to overcome the loss of another player. Losing two starters at receiver isn’t going to make life any easier on Newton, who has been adjusting on the fly all season long.
Yet, the Panthers still have enough talent to make some noise in the NFC. It also helps that they have a top-10 defense.
As for the offense, it’ll need increased efforts from Russell Shepard and Kaelin Clay. They might also be fortunate enough to see injured All-Pro tight end Greg Olsen return to the field by Week 12. That’ll put at least one of Newton’s favorite targets back in the lineup.
It might even cushion the losses of Benjamin and Samuel.