The Carolina Panthers will head into the stretch run of their season without their youngest – and one of their fastest – wide receivers.
Rookie wideout Curtis Samuel will undergo season-ending surgery on his left ankle after he was hurt in a Monday night victory against Miami, the Panthers confirmed Tuesday.
Samuel’s first NFL season ends after nine games and 15 catches, although the second-round pick from Ohio State had taken on an increased role following Kelvin Benjamin’s trade to Buffalo two weeks ago.
Samuel was targeted seven times against the Dolphins, and established season highs with five catches and 45 yards before his injury.
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“I was pretty disappointed,” Samuel said Tuesday. “But all I can do is just move on and get ready for rehab and go from there.”
Neither Samuel nor the Panthers divulged the specifics of his injury. Samuel left Monday’s game in the third quarter after Dolphins safety Reshad Jones fell on his leg after Samuel dropped a Cam Newton pass in the end zone.
The Panthers dealt Benjamin for a pair of Bills draft picks in part to get more speed on the field. Samuel, 21, a Brooklyn native, blazed through the 40 in 4.31 seconds last winter at the combine.
Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula said the team would use a committee approach to replace Samuel. Devin Funchess, Russell Shepard, Kaelin Clay and Brenton Bersin are the other receivers on the roster, while speedy second-year wideout Damiere Byrd (broken forearm) is eligible to come off injured reserve before the Dec. 3 game at New Orleans.
“I think it’s kind of a collective effort. Is there anybody as fast as him? There’s some guys on the team that would say yeah,” Shula said. “We’re going to try hard to find ways to put guys in place with what they do best, and have them go do it.”
The Panthers have yet to reach out to former receiver Philly Brown, according to league sources. Brown was the Panthers’ leading receiver in Super Bowl 50, but became a free agent last offseason after Carolina did not tender him.
He signed with Buffalo, but the Bills cut him in September.
Shula said rookie running back Christian McCaffrey also could help fill in for Samuel in the Panthers’ new-look offense, which emphasizes shorter, quicker-hitting passes to get the ball out of Cam Newton’s hands faster.
“It’s probably going to be by committee,” Shula said. “One of the best things that happened (Monday) night after Curtis (was hurt) is we didn’t really feel like we missed a beat. Guys coming in and doing their jobs and knowing their assignments.”
On the day he learned he was lost for the season, Samuel signed autographs and passed out Thanksgiving turkeys at the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club in Sedgefield.
Samuel, using crutches with his leg heavily wrapped, said he didn’t want to cancel his appearance.
“I’m in a little bit of pain, but that wasn’t going to stop me because I understand how important this moment is for these kids,” he said. “They look forward to this and I also was looking forward to this. So I wasn’t going to let an injury stop me from giving back.”
Samuel signed promotional fliers for the event, and also autographed several cell phones.
In return, he received a get-well card from a young girl and let several kids sign his Panthers cap.
After getting a turkey and an autograph, one girl started dancing with excitement.
“I wish I could dance with you,” Samuel said, smiling.