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LaDainian Tomlinson: Panthers are perfect for Norv Turner

Posted Jan 19, 2018

The Hall of Famer, who played for Turner for four seasons, discusses ways in which Carolina's new offensive coordinator can utilize Christian McCaffrey and Cam Newton.

Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson’s first offensive coordinator in the NFL was Norv Turner back in 2001.

Then, after two years as Miami's offensive coordinator, two years as Oakland's head coach and one year as San Francisco's offensive coordinator, Turner returned to San Diego as head coach.

Turner coached Tomlinson for three seasons before the Chargers legend finished his decorated career with the Jets.

Tomlinson is now an analyst for NFL Network, and he’s a big fan of Ron Rivera’s decision to hire Turner as Carolina’s new offensive coordinator, which he discussed at length with Panthers.com.

Among the highlights from Tomlinson:

- Why Christian McCaffrey will flourish under Turner

- How Turner can help Cam Newton improve

- How Turner will handle Newton’s running ability

- Why Turner’s approach resonates with players

Read the full Q&A with Tomlinson below.

His reaction to Turner joining the Panthers' staff: “Well, I’m not surprised. A lot of times coaches will move around, but it’s about relationships they’ve built over the years. Norv has a great relationship with Ron, and Norv feels comfortable going to work with him. Ron will allow Norv to be him. Norv wouldn’t just go work for anybody, and that says a lot about Ron. At this stage in Norv’s career, he’s been there and done that. But to go and work for Ron, I think this will rejuvenate Norv in way. I think it was a heck of a hire by Ron to get Norv.”

Turner and Rivera’s relationship in San Diego: “You know, sometimes the offense and defense will form a rivalry in practice. But I never got that sense with those two. It was always a great respect. They learned from each other. That’s how coaches grow, and that’s how they formed a relationship that’s lasted years.”

What makes Turner a successful coach: “One, I think is just an understanding of what it takes to beat defenses and how to create matchups for his playmakers. That’s the No. 1 thing that you have to have as a play-caller, because this game is about matchups. It’s about getting your playmakers the ball. Norv has this ability to do that, and he makes everyone feel like they have a place in the offense. He’s able to get the best out of each player and keep them motivated. He might say, ‘Hey, this is your week. Their corner hasn’t played well this year, so we are going to attack him, and this is going to be your week.’ He might tell (Devin) Funchess that. And Norv will follow through. Players trust him and believe him. He gets guys to buy into his system and he understands what it takes to get those guys the ball.”

McCaffrey’s future with Turner: “We all know the glaring thing that Christian excels at, and that’s coming out of the backfield and catching the ball. That’s a given, and Norv will create those matchups for him in a way that he’s never seen before. That will be really good, but the thing I’m excited about seeing is how Norv is going to use him in the run game. Norv is going to get him on the perimeter. He’s going to call the things that Christian does well – getting him on the edge, getting him in space. So you’ll see a lot of those toss plays, you will see the misdirection plays. Now Norv does always like to have a guy to pound it up inside to loosen up the defense. It’s going to be interesting to see if that guy is Jonathan Stewart. But those things will be worked out. To me, Christian will be the guy, the premier player in that offense.”

How Turner can help Newton: “As Cam gets older, and he’s not a spring chicken anymore, he’s going to have to continue to develop in the pocket. The completion percentage has to go up above 60. I think he’s going to take that next step with Norv. If anybody can do it, it’s Norv. Cam is going to have to put in the work and he’s going to have to trust Norv. And it’s going to have to be about timing. Norv’s offense is all about timing. Three steps, get the ball out, five steps, hitch and get it out of your hand. Those are some of the ways Norv will be able to help Cam. And he’s going to do the things that Cam likes to do. Cam loves to throw the ball down the field and Norv is going to use that, just as he did with Philip Rivers.”

How Turner might handle Newton’s running ability: “That is a great question, and I’m still figuring that part of it out myself. What will Norv do? Because he’s never had a guy like that. But Norv is open-minded. He’s not a guy who says, ‘We’re going to do it the way I’ve always done and that’s it.’ I think he’ll take into account that Cam loves to get in space and run the football. I anticipate him using bootlegs and sprint-outs with Cam. The read-option stuff? I’m really not sure how Norv will approach that.”

Turner’s coaching style: “He has a unique ability to understand each and every player. He takes the time to go around and get to know the guys. Guys will feel connected to their offensive coordinator. He builds those relationships, and that’s why his guys have always enjoyed being around him. And he has a way of stroking your ego, I guess. He’ll make your skills come out and shine even more. That’s what a player wants to hear, and that’s what great coaches do.

“But I talked about timing earlier, and if the timing is off out there, you will see him yell and get on guys and use a couple choice words. He knows what he needs from guys, and when he doesn’t see it, you will see that side of him that will challenge you.”

Turner’s feel for play-calling (Turner called plays as Chargers head coach): “You always felt like he was going to put you in a position to be successful. Even when we didn’t have much (talent) back then, we did the things that we were good at. With Norv and his play-calling, we scored points and we felt confident doing the things we were good at.”

Seeing Turner return to the NFL after a year away: “I always see him and his wife at the Hall of Fame, and I could just tell he wasn’t done. I could tell he was itching to get back. He’s always talking ball. He can’t help it. I’m sure his wife was hoping she would get Norv back home and take trips and all that kind of stuff, but I knew it was too good to be true. I’m just happy for him, because I know this is who he is. He loves doing this. It’s great for him to be back with Ron – somebody he respects and somebody he’s going to have fun with. It’s perfect for him.”