CHARLOTTE -- Most of the "Mike Shula has new toys" pieces written over the past few months (like this one, for example) mostly glossed over a key point.
Those toys need some on-field time before they can be as fun as they seem.
So those expecting the Panthers to unleash "the future of football" when they open the regular season Sept. 10 at San Francisco may need to pump the brakes a bit.
"I think the biggest thing is guys are just now getting back healthy," the Panthers' offensive coordinator said Monday when asked for a progress report on his unit. "So the time on task among the guys – like Curtis (Samuel) and Cam (Newton) – we're still kind of at the early stages because we haven't been together."
That doesn't let the offense off the hook for Week 1, of course.
Even if Newton plays Thursday against Pittsburgh to double his preseason drive tally to two, his timing with receivers could be spotty for at least another few weeks. Yet in less than two weeks, the Panthers will be expected to produce points against a defense that was the NFL's worst last season.
"We don't have time to be concerned," Shula said. "What we have to do is make sure that when the opener gets here, whatever we give our guys they feel real good about knowing what they're doing and they can play fast."
Newton wasn't the most accurate thrower even before he underwent shoulder surgery, so perhaps part of the Week 1 plan will be to mostly eliminate vertical routes in favor of shorter, higher-percentage passes?
"No," Shula replied. "We feel like he is on track to make all the throws that we need him to make."
Newton should be helped along by one of the new toys, who appears to have come with batteries included. Despite missing all of OTAs because of an archaic NFL rule, Christian McCaffrey has looked more like a veteran than a 21-year-old rookie.
"It's been every bit as much or more – so far," Shula said of McCaffrey's seemingly smooth transition from Stanford to the NFL.
"He spends a lot of time on the field, and he spends a lot of time away from here looking at stuff. Gathering information, looking at tape of other teams, himself, our defense. And he's a fast learner."
Which is incredibly important for an offense that's still a work in progress just 13 days ahead of a new season.
"Is it everything that we wanted to do if they had all been here together Day One of OTAs? Probably not," Shula said.
"But we still have a lot of good stuff that our guys know and we feel we can be productive with."
View photos from Carolina's fourth week of preseason practice.