SPARTANBURG, S.C. – In an ideal world, players who rely heavily on their speed take all the time they possibly can to heal a hamstring injury before returning to the field.
There's no ideal time for a rookie to rehab, but this early in the preseason is about as good as it gets.
"I don't want to go back on the field and further damage it, hurt myself and also hurt this team," said rookie receiver Curtis Samuel, who last practiced on the first day of training camp. The last day of camp is Sunday.
"It's just a minor strain. I'm just trying to get it back right, get as much treatment as I can," Samuel said. "It's definitely getting better every day. I'm just pushing myself whenever I can. I definitely have goals for myself, and I'm working as hard as I can to get back out there, but I've got to take care of my body first – with the trainers and when I'm not with them – to put in extra work and get myself right."
Samuel was in and out of practice because of right hamstring tightness during offseason workouts. He took part in individual drills on the final day of veteran minicamp in mid-June but appeared to experience some discomfort on one route and watched the rest of practice.
The second-round pick arrived at camp ready to roll but changed course after taking part in the opening night practice.
"I thought it was good going into camp," Samuel said. "I did the conditioning test, and it didn't bother me at all. The first practice was fine. The main thing I thought about was how it would feel when I got fatigued. That was my main concern. First day was fine, but when it got fatigued, it got sore.
"I wouldn't say it re-hurt it bad – that's not the case. It just got a little sore, and I wanted to be cautious."
Samuel said the hamstring feels better every day, but he's taking it day-by-day as far as a return is concerned. He's been active on the side at practice though, soaking in mental reps and catching some passes from sidelined quarterback Cam Newton in the Panthers' final practice before Wednesday's preseason opener.
"There are game reps and mental reps, and mental reps really help so that when you come back, you don't feel like you were away from the game," Samuel said. "I'm staying on the top of the playbook, being out there hearing the verbiage. That's going to help me when I come back."
It feels like a lot has happened since Samuel was last seen fully involved on the practice field, but there's also a long ways to go. The Panthers still have three preseason games to play and are still a month from kicking off their regular season.
"I'm just trying to get it back right so I can be the player I want to be," Samuel said. "I'm just going to try to make an impact at receiver. Whenever the coaches put me, I'm going to do my best to make the most of it and be the player I need to be to help this team out."