CHARLOTTE – The Panthers would love to get the version of Curtis Samuel back that used his world-class speed to make several splash plays throughout the preseason.
Now Samuel's return could be fast approaching – the operative word being "fast."
"I was just so excited when I first stepped back on the field," Samuel said Monday after practicing for the first time since the preseason. "I'm just grateful for the opportunity I have to play this great game.
"I wanted to go out there and run. I hadn't run in a long time. It felt good running fast. I feel a little faster – I ain't going to lie."
Samuel's excitement was palpable as he returned to practice from what head coach Ron Rivera termed a "health scare," a medical situation that had sidelined Samuel since the Panthers began preparations for the regular season opener nearly a month ago.
"It was great to see Curtis out there. He looked like he was having a lot of fun," Rivera said. "For him to able to be out there now was pretty exciting. I'm happy to have him out there.
"We just went along with what the doctors were telling us. We were told on Thursday that they were going allow Curtis to start practicing again."
Samuel didn't want to elaborate on what has been listed as a "medical illness" on the team's official injury reports.
"I'm not really going to go back into it. I just knew something wasn't right, so I had to go check with the doctors. That's really about it," Samuel said. "It definitely was frightening for something like that to happen. … But I was more worried about the offseason and all the work I put in and looking forward to the first game of the season, and then not being able to play really hurt me. That's really what I was focused on, honestly."
The Panthers' first practice after their bye also featured a pair of players who hadn't practiced since playing in the season opener three weeks ago. The first injury report for Sunday's game against the Giants will be released Wednesday, but Rivera confirmed that right guard Trai Turner (concussion) and wide receiver Damiere Byrd (knee) practiced Monday.
"Trai was out there practicing, and he took all his reps and looked good," Rivera said, adding he believes Turner had fully cleared the concussion protocol. "And we'll get Damiere back as well. Adding two speed players to what we do as far as an offense could be a very good thing for us this week."
Rivera said the team would continue to monitor Samuel's conditioning and will look forward to his return as soon as possible – possibly Sunday. The second-year pro was a preseason standout, tying for the NFL lead with four receptions of 20-plus yards. His 160 receiving yards in the preseason ranked seventh in the league.
"For sure I can continue to do what I was doing before I left," said Samuel, who hasn't played in a regular season game since exiting with a severe ankle injury in Week 10 of his rookie year. "I've been in this type of situation before, having to get it going. I'm not going to say I'm used to it, but I know how to adjust to adversity.
"It's just time for me now that I'm back on the field to go out there and make things happen."