SPARTANBURG, S.C. – When players returning to the practice field for the first time after an injury talk about "getting their wind," they're usually referring to catching their breath from a cardiovascular standpoint.
In the case of lightning-fast receiver Curtis Samuel, he's talking about getting up to speed in a different way.
"It's good to be able to catch a ball and burst off the line, show some speed," said Samuel, who participated in training camp practice for the first time Wednesday. "When I feel that wind, that's when I know it's go time.
"I've already been fast. It just takes running a little bit, getting a feel of the turf a little bit. Then I'm gonna float."
Samuel ran the third-fastest 40-yard dash time at the 2017 NFL Combine, coming in at 4.31 seconds – one-hundredth of a second faster than cornerback Donte Jackson, the fastest player at the 2018 combine. The Panthers used their second-round draft choice on Samuel in '17 (and Jackson in '18), but Carolina enjoyed only flashes of Samuel's speed as a rookie because of injuries.
He missed most of training camp last year with hamstring concerns, and then just as he showed signs of coming into his own, Samuel suffered a season-ending ankle injury after catching five first-half passes in a Week 10 victory over the Dolphins.
Samuel slowly but surely got more involved on the practice field during the Panthers' offseason workouts, but he sat out the first five practices of training camp after experiencing soreness during workouts over the month leading up to camp.
"I thought Curtis did a couple of good things," head coach Ron Rivera said. "I saw him moving around. It's one of those things where you don't want to get ahead of yourself. He's just feeling his way back out there, but as he starts to progress and gets better and better, stronger and stronger out there then we'll really be able to access where he is."
Samuel's health is his first concern but not the only one. When healthy he's been focusing on becoming a professional in general and most specifically a pro-level receiver.
"Coming to the National Football League, it's just different. You're playing against older, experienced guys, so it was just a learning experience for me," Samuel said of his shortened rookie year.
Part of that process according to Samuel has been "making that transition last year to the National Football League coming from playing running back and receiver in college.
"I'm looking forward to this year having learned from last year."
When healthy enough to, the former Ohio State standout worked on catching football from different angles on a JUGS machine he had delivered to his Charlotte home.
While everyone around him has fingers crossed that health concerns don't get in the way of Samuel's sophomore campaign, Samuel himself is taking the approach that nothing will get in his way.
"This injury ain't going to stop me; I'm not worried about it," he said. "Being out for a couple of days, you've got to get back into the feel of the game, but it won't take me long.
"I'm a player. I'm a baller. This is what I do; I play football."