CHARLOTTE – Over the course of Carolina's current five-game losing skid, Panthers fans have wondered if there was any chance of seeing rookie quarterback Will Grier in action.
Last week, owner David Tepper referenced Grier, saying the Panthers are developing the third-round pick in a very "traditional" way, indicating he likely wouldn't see the field in the team's final three games. On Monday, interim head coach Perry Fewell reaffirmed his commitment to starter Kyle Allen.
On Thursday, Panthers offensive coordinator Scott Turner gave a little more context to what Tepper meant by Grier's traditional development. Now, quarterbacks are often thrust into the fire straight out of college, with rookies like Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins and Daniel Jones all starting games this season. But that wasn't the case not too long ago.
"When you would draft a young quarterback, a lot of times he would sit," Turner explained, using former Bengals No. 1 overall pick Carson Palmer as an example of a quarterback who sat behind veteran Jon Kitna as a rookie in 2003. "You wouldn't even talk about playing him. You'd let him get the feel for going through an NFL season as a backup, watching, learning, and then they'd begin playing."
That's the kind of formula for success the Panthers are attempting with Grier. Instead of rushing Grier into action and exposing him to the wear and tear of a 16-game season straight off the bat, Turner wants to make sure Grier is in a position to succeed when he first takes the field. That day may not be far off, though.
"He's close right now," Turner said. "He could go in the second play of the game, we all know that, and I think he'd do well if he did. But you go in, you get hit a lot, you don't have a lot of success. Those types of things can sometimes have a negative effect on the development."
Playing from behind
Last Sunday marked Turner's first time as the play-caller for the Panthers offense, and despite the 20-point loss, he said he felt good about how things went.
"Procedurally everything went smooth that way," Turner said. "There were some plays that we could have made probably early in the first half, and then in the second half we moved the ball pretty consistently, it was just the turnovers that really hurt us."
Two interceptions, a strip-sack and a fumbled kickoff return will slow down any offense, and when you're forced to play behind, it drastically changes the approach of an offensive coordinator.
"Late third quarter, we're down 20, at that point you have a limited number of possessions and you've got to try and play as fast as you can," Turner said. "You look at the numbers and say, 'I'd like to run the ball more,' but you know the situation you're in and I don't know how much you can really change."
While running back Christian McCaffrey may have only had 11 carries, Turner was able to get other players involved in the ground game, too. On the game's first possession, three different Panthers rushed the ball, as McCaffrey, running back Reggie Bonnafon and wide receiver Curtis Samuel all got carries.
"They're just some different plays we wanted to take a look at," Turner said. "With Curtis, he's an explosive player and as much as we can get him the ball, so just trying to find different ways to do that. We gave him three carries and he had 17 yards. Obviously, the first one that play didn't really work out the way we wanted too, but the other two worked pretty well. They're not all going to work, but different ways to get the ball in playmakers' hands."
More records in store for CMC?
It seems like each week McCaffrey sets a new record for something.
With three games left, he's closing in on becoming just the third player in league history to record 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. The rushing yardage has already been taken care of, so all he needs is 274 more yards through the air to join the club.
Turner said the Panthers won't have to go out of their way to try and make that happen. It's no secret the Panthers offense runs through CMC.
"We're going to get the ball to Christian, I feel confident saying that. I don't know if he's going to reach that number, but he's going to get his opportunities," Turner said. "It's not like we've got to come up with ways to get him the ball."
Evaluating Ian Thomas
With tight end Greg Olsen still working his way through concussion protocol, it may be another week before the Panthers see their veteran tight end back on the field. That means more minutes for second-year back up Ian Thomas, who played the most snaps of his season last Sunday against the Falcons.
"He had some good and then he had some bad," Turner said. "There are some catches he's got to come up with, there are some blocks he has to be more physical on, but he flashed."
Thomas finished the game with five receptions for 57 yards and a touchdown, all season highs, but also saw a pass bounce off his hands and into the Falcons' for an interception.
"There are a lot of young guys out there and they'll make a good play here and there and then all of a sudden it's a bad play," Turner said. "You have everyone say, 'Hey, he had a pretty good game, but he had one or two bad plays.' That collection of one or two bad plays, that ends up being not a very good game."
View photos from Thursday's practice as Carolina prepares to take on Seattle.