The offense the Panthers have been hoping for all year finally arrived Monday night.
And then wide receiver Curtis Samuel suffered a season-ending ankle injury, and now they have a bye week to figure out how to replace him, their latest adjustment in a season of “evolution.”
“It’s probably going to be by committee,” offensive coordinator Mike Shula said, via Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer. “One of the best things that happened [Monday[ night after Curtis [was hurt] is we didn’t really feel like we missed a beat. Guys coming in and doing their jobs and knowing their assignments.”
There are only a few problems with that. One, they aren’t going to be facing teams who roll over and play dead the way the Dolphins did in the second half. Two, they’re running out of committee members, at least ones who are qualified.
After trading Kelvin Benjamin to the Bills (which was done in part to get Samuel on the field), the Panthers are running short at the position. Beyond Devin Funchess (who has played well since the trade), the Panthers are down to an odd lot of parts including Russell Shepard, Kaelin Clay, and Brenton Bersin. They’ll get tight end Greg Olsen back soon, and the speedy but inexperienced Damiere Byrd back in December, but there isn’t a like-for-like for Samuel on the roster.
“I think it’s kind of a collective effort. Is there anybody as fast as him? There’s some guys on the team that would say yeah,” Shula said. “We’re going to try hard to find ways to put guys in place with what they do best, and have them go do it.”
The Panthers have been fiddling with their offensive plan all year, mostly because they were trying to protect quarterback Cam Newton. But as he regained form after offseason shoulder surgery, he’s taking more initiative to run and the results have improved. Now, even more of the burden is going to fall on that shoulder, as he has a diminished array of options.