CHARLOTTE – It was back in August before the start of the regular season and I was chatting with wide receiver Curtis Samuel, the star of Carolina's training camp.
His fellow wideout and good friend DJ Moore was quite honestly overshadowed by Samuel all summer. It was Samuel who made splash play after splash play. But Moore was quietly showing signs of real growth.
I asked Samuel what he thought about Moore's game as the start of the regular season neared.
"Whether you are talked about a lot or not, that doesn't mean you haven't been improving or the coaches haven't noticed," Samuel said. "He worked on the things he needed to individually – we all have things – and he's gotten better. He had a great first year, we all know that, and the second year he is going to take an even bigger leap.
"He's a little more comfortable and you can see the confidence. It's going to be amazing to see what he can do. He's so strong, he's a superfreak athlete. He can make people miss. That's what makes him a unique player. He's going to have a big year, there is no question."
Fast forward to Week 13.
Moore is fifth in the NFL in receiving with 905 yards. He's compiled 442 yards over the last four games alone and is on pace for over 1,300. The Panthers haven't had a 1,000-yard receiver since Kelvin Benjamin in 2014.
"He's understanding how good he can potentially be," head coach Ron Rivera said of Moore.
Turner, like Samuel, saw the strides Moore had been making throughout the offseason. But the first-round pick's rookie campaign showed glimpses of what was to come with a little more seasoning.
"I saw it last year," offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. "I saw him have big games, I saw him make big plays. We just didn't see it with the same consistency. Now he's doing it every day in practice and it carries over to the game. He's put a string of five or six games together where he's done it each week. That's what you call growing as a player and developing as a player and understanding how competitive this league is."
Above all, Moore has taken a big step as a route-runner in his second season, and it's led to the big jump in production.
He knows where he's supposed to be and how he's supposed to get there. And he knows how it all fits into the big picture for the entire offense.
That's the difference between rookie DJ and Year Two DJ.
"By no means a finished product, but an improved product in terms of route-running," Rivera said. "Understanding why we do things, why you have to stem a route a certain way, why you have to make a cut at a certain depth. All those little detail things.
"DJ has done the best job in terms of trying to understand the why. That's helped him a lot."