CHARLOTTE – Wide receiver Curtis Samuel's rookie year is over.
The second-round pick will undergo season-ending surgery on his left ankle and eventually be placed on injured reserve.
Samuel left Monday night's game against the Dolphins early in the third quarter after his foot turned awkwardly under the weight of Miami safety Reshad Jones in the end zone.
Prior to the injury, Samuel was enjoying the most productive game of his career, recording a career-high five catches for 45 yards in the first half against the Dolphins. As quarterback Cam Newton said, Samuel finally appeared to be "on the cusp."
"There were a lot of good things," offensive coordinator Mike Shula said Tuesday. "He had a couple of third-down conversions, and his awareness is becoming better and better as far as finding holes in the zones. He's doing a better job on releases – just all the little things on route running. He made a tough catch when he got hit hard on a deep cross and held onto it."
Samuel, who was drafted to threaten defenses with his elite speed, battled a hamstring injury throughout the summer and a high-ankle sprain in his right foot during the early part of the season. But when wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was traded to the Buffalo Bills two weeks ago, Samuel assumed a starting role alongside Devin Funchess.
Now, with Samuel out for the season, the Panthers have to turn to others to inject that much-needed speed.
"It's kind of a collective effort," Shula said. "Is there anybody as fast as him? There are some guys on our team that would say yes. We're going to try hard to find ways to put guys in place for what they do best and then have them go do it.
"One of the best things that happened last night after Curtis left was that we didn't feel like we really missed a beat. Guys came in and did their job, knew their assignments. Every play we've got guys going in and out, and we hardly missed a beat as far as guys going to different positions from one play to another."
Kaelin Clay, who hauled in his first catch of the season on Monday, will get more opportunities to showcase his speed.
And when Damiere Byrd comes off injured reserve – he's eligible to do so when the Panthers visit the Saints in Week 13 – he can bring more speed to an offense that suddenly finds itself in shorter supply.
"Damiere has progressed very well," head coach Ron Rivera said. "The fortunate thing for him is it was an arm as opposed to a leg injury, so it's just a matter of time before he's eligible to come back out."