CHARLOTTE – Curtis Samuel came into offseason workouts as a rookie in 2017 knowing he had a lot to learn about being an NFL wide receiver, but even his breakneck speed couldn't get him around the learning curve any faster.
Now, after two offseasons filled with stops and starts – and regular seasons with the same – Samuel is full-go at the start of organized team activities for the first time and couldn't be happier about it.
"I'm just trying to take care of myself day in and day out to get myself the best chance to stay on the field and help my team. I can't help my team from the sideline," Samuel said after the Panthers kicked off OTAs on Tuesday. "This is probably the first year, not to jinx it, that I've started off feeling pretty good. That's a good thing.
"I'm super excited. I was able to get in some great training, fully healthy and able to run around, and now I'm coming into OTAs feeling great."
For the first time in his career, Samuel is able to pick up where he left off the previous season, a season that ended with him emerging as a go-to receiver alongside then-rookie DJ Moore.
Samuel and Moore put up nearly identical numbers over the final six games of the 2018 season – Samuel with 22 catches for 315 yards and two touchdowns, Moore with 25 catches for 314 yards. Only running back Christian McCaffrey, on his way to breaking the NFL record for receptions by a running back, put up bigger numbers down the stretch.
Jarius Wright maintained his critical receiving role on third down over the final weeks of the season, but Devin Funchess fell out of the rotation and signed with the Colts this offseason, while Torrey Smith's snaps were limited coming off a knee injury.
It was mostly the Samuel and Moore show, and 2019 could bring more of the same.
"We're two of the youngest receivers in the league, but we're trying to make things happen," Samuel said. "DJ is like my brother. Not many people talk about us. We don't really care about it, but we're coming every day at practice ready to work and understanding what the task at hand is. We're just trying to get better each and every day."
Samuel was raw at receiver coming out of college, having spent most of his time lining up in Ohio State's backfield. Then Carolina's second-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft didn't participate in OTAs right away because of back tightness and a family matter, and his first training camp was interrupted by a hamstring injury.
Samuel started hitting his stride midway through his rookie season, only to suffer a serious ankle injury that ended the campaign early and slowed him at the start of OTAs last spring. He put that in the rear-view mirror before the 2018 season began but still started the year on the sideline after the discovery of medical condition that Samuel said Tuesday is fully behind him.
"This is a big opportunity for me to grow as a player and to be around the quarterbacks and get that chemistry going," Samuel said. "I did a ton of growing last year after not being able to be out there at the beginning of the season. To end the season the way I did felt great, and now I'm able to come into OTAs feeling good.
"I just expect big things for myself and for the team."
View photos from the first practice of Carolina's organized team activities.