Big adjustments evident in Norv Turner's Panthers offense, and not just for Cam Newton

Big adjustments evident in Norv Turner's Panthers offense, and not just for Cam Newton
(Charlotte Observer)

CHARLOTTE, NC (Jourdan Rodrigue/CharlotteObserver) - New Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner's quarterback disciples are many, and many are storied, too.

But his big-picture philosophy is that a great offense isn't just about a great arm. It's about what Turner will demand from Carolina's receivers, too.

Turner makes it clear that revitalizing the Panthers' offense after two inconsistent seasons will be about more than the performance of quarterback Cam Newton.

Making the receivers around Newton better is as big a key as helping Newton get better.

"That's how quarterbacks really grow and have the greatest success: When they're playing at a high level, and everyone else around them is too," Turner said.

And that, based on history, is what Turner demands.

Discipline and detail

Turner is detail-oriented, and he demands precision from his receivers. That means even the team's old heads might have to change some things about their execution, as practiced as they might be.

"I've really enjoyed being around him, enjoyed hearing his philosophies on offense," veteran tight end Greg Olsen said. "There's always a little transition."

Olsen is well-known for being a stickler for the little details himself — right down to the seconds he spends per stretch and the height he lifts his knees as he skip-jogs in warmups.

So he can relate to how Turner digs the details.

"He wants things done a certain way, and it's my job to kind of alter what I've done," said Olsen. "There are some things that I've done for a long time that are different from how he wants them done. Certain routes, certain adjustments, things like that. That's on me, to adjust to the way he wants his offense run."

Healthy after getting foot surgery and spending eight weeks of last season on injured reserve, Olsen looks to once again be Newton's "Mr. Reliable." He will re-join No. 1 receiver Devin Funchess, who is in a contract year. Also back: Running back Christian McCaffrey, who led the team in receptions a year ago, a healthy Damiere Byrd, and healthier-by-the-day Curtis Samuel. The latter two made three trips to injured reserve between them last season.

But there are new options, too.

The Panthers traded for veteran receiver Torrey Smith and added veteran Jarius Wright, a Turner pupil, in free agency. They also drafted versatile receiver D.J. Moore in the first round, which prompted a "thank-you" text message from Newton to head coach Ron Rivera.

Rivera said in January, when former offensive coordinator Mike Shula was fired, that he wanted a fresh set of eyes on his offense. He also needed experience in his receivers room, and wanted discipline throughout.

Bringing in Smith and Wright, adding Moore and hiring Turner checks those boxes, in his mind.

"We wanted some veteran guys who have a feel for what it takes," he said. "We knew we were going to add some young talent, but we needed some guys who were established to come in and help."

A success story

Turner has worked with some prolific pass-catchers, including former Chargers tight end Antonio Gates and former San Diego and Tampa Bay receiver Vincent Jackson, and was the architect of Cleveland receiver Josh Gordon's 1,646-yard second season.

But he is especially proud of the development of a young receiver who was once an afterthought in the NFL: Minnesota's Adam Thielen.

An undrafted free agent, Thielen could hardly get a tryout as a rookie and didn't break 150 yards per season in his first two years in the league.

Now, he's one of the NFL's most surgical route-runners. During his past two seasons, he racked up 2,224 yards and earned a Pro Bowl berth.

His development offers a look at what Turner will demand from his receivers, particularly the young players.

"There were a number of times on routes when he would be in such a hurry," laughed Turner. "He would lose his balance, lose his footing. He'd go to the ground. ... You do have to do things fast, but have some patience along with going fast.

"He got to a point where he was an outstanding route-runner, but he got that way by doing the same things over and over and over again, and not getting bored with the details of doing it over and over and over again. And learning how to do it right, learning how to work a defensive back and understanding the little things of route-running."

That eventually brings Turner back to his original philosophy: It's not just about the arm throwing the ball.

"I always told (Thielen), it's amazing how if you make plays, the quarterback tends to find you," Turner said. "The more plays you make, the more times you get your number called. ... It's been really fun for me to watch what Adam has become.

"And I think we've got guys here who can do the same thing."