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Panthers' pieces similar to Norv Turner success stories

Posted Jan 12, 2018

Christian McCaffrey isn't yet quite as explosive as Darren Sproles. Carolina's new offensive coordinator could help change that.

CHARLOTTE – Because the Ron Rivera/Norv Turner reunion has been the NFL’s worst-kept secret since Tuesday, plenty of folks had a head start analyzing how the new coordinator will – or won’t – help the Panthers’ offense.

For me, the easiest way to look at it is this: Turner is almost like a hybrid of Cam Newton’s previous two coordinators. 

Rob Chudzinski was a Turner disciple, but during his two years in Carolina, "Chud" often eschewed a power, clock-chewing run game for big numbers in a vertical-happy passing game.

Mike Shula did a better job doing what Rivera wanted with a ground attack that helped the Panthers lead the league in time of possession over the past five seasons, but Newton’s numbers dipped significantly as a passer in a system that took limited shots downfield.

Part of Turner’s job will be to find a better balance. 

Will it work? Maybe, maybe not. But Turner does have skill position pieces in place that could help him find similar success to some of his previous stops. 

Running Back: Christian McCaffrey as Darren Sproles

McCaffrey was drafted to be an electric playmaker. That’s what Sproles was under Turner in San Diego. 

From 2007-11, Sproles averaged 4.6 yards per carry and 9.7 yards per receptions while scoring 21 total touchdowns, including four as a returner.

McCaffrey had his moments in 2017, but Shula struggled to find the rookie’s sweet spot in the offense. That will be one of Turner’s main charges.

A couple of other possible Turner-related analogies at running back – Jonathan Stewart as the bruising Michael Turner and Alex Armah as multi-dimensional fullback Mike Tolbert.

Tight End: Greg Olsen as Antonio Gates

This isn’t exactly an apples-to-apples comparison as far as playing style, but Turner’s offenses have almost always featured a productive tight end. And few at the position, if any, have been as productive as Olsen since he came to Carolina.

A broken foot made 2017 essentially a lost season for Olsen, but Monday he said, “I still feel I can play at a high level for a good while longer.” There’s little reason to believe his next season under Turner won’t produce big numbers.  

Wide Receiver: Devin Funchess as Malcom Floyd 

Yes, I keep going back to the San Diego well because comparing Panthers players to, say, the Hall of Famers Turner had with the Cowboys in the early 90s is a bit premature. And because there’s a decent chance the Panthers will give Turner at least a couple of new wideouts, pickings at this position are slim as far as similarities are concerned. 

But Funchess and Floyd seem like a fair comparison. 

While never a star, Floyd had a solid 12-year career. During six of those seasons in San Diego with Turner, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Floyd averaged 35.8 receptions and 620.8 yards. 

Funchess, who’s 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, has averaged 39 catches and 561.3 yards in his first three seasons. But his ceiling may be at least slightly higher than Floyd’s was. 

Quarterback: Newton as no one

This is the wild card and the reason it could all go boom or bust. 

Turner has done wonderful things with quarterbacks like Troy Aikman and Philip Rivers. Turner even somehow cobbled together Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer with the Browns in 2013, a trio that completed enough passes for wideout Josh Gordon to lead the league in receiving yards. 

But during his three decades in coaching, Turner has never had a quarterback like Newton. 

Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater was the only guy who could run, and while he didn’t pile up a ton of yards on the ground during his two full seasons with Turner, it’s not like he was solely a drop-back passer. That’s not Newton’s future, either. But Turner helped Bridgewater improve significantly as a passer, an area where Newton still has room to grow.