CHARLOTTE -- When you survive a season of Matt Moore, Jimmy Clausen and Brian St. Pierre, there's supposed to be a light at the end of the tunnel. For the Carolina Panthers, the silver lining of losing 14 times in 2010 was earning a No. 1 overall draft pick. But four days after the second-worst season in franchise history mercifully ended in Atlanta, it was almost like the Panthers lost again. Stanford's Andrew Luck, the consensus top pick, announced he was staying in school for his senior season.
Now, nearly five years after he turned down the chance of coming to Carolina, Luck will face the team who very well could have drafted him. How much different would the Panthers look right now if that would have happened? For what it's worth, the Colts quarterback claims he doesn't play the 'what if?' game.
"(There's) no point in my mind in playing that game with really anything," Luck said Wednesday on a conference call with Carolina media. "I think I always just sort of knew I was going to stay in school for four years. And obviously finishing my education was also important to me and I needed to stay an extra year to get that done. I felt like I still needed to grow a lot as a football player and I thought college would still get me that opportunity to grow and learn."
In hindsight, Luck's choice worked out for everyone. The Panthers found their franchise quarterback in Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, and a year later, Luck went No. 1 to the Colts as Peyton Manning's replacement.
"I think I grew up. I matured. I got whatever it is out of my system -- whatever that college itch is out of my system," Luck said. "I think I got better at football. I learned a lot more football.
"And closure. Maybe just wanted some closure that last year."
--Few jobs in the NFL attract as much criticism as offensive coordinator. Try to find a fan base that would give its play-caller a high approval rating. Often, the best offensive coordinators are just memories of a former coach most fans couldn't stand when he was actually with the team.
Since being promoted into the role by the Panthers in 2013, Mike Shula has been one of the biggest lightning rods in Carolina. But during that time, the Panthers have gone 25-12-1 with a pair of playoff appearances. Many would argue that success has come despite Shula, who's benefited from a once-in-a-generation quarterback and a strong defense.
"That's fine," Shula said of the criticism. "We want to be balanced and we want to find a way to help our team win."
The Panthers are the top-ranked rushing team in the NFL, but they're 22nd at 344.2 yards per game and only the Vikings, 49ers and Rams are averaging fewer passing yards than Carolina's 199.6.
Notes: Linebacker Shaq Thompson (knee) went through some individual work Wednesday, but he wasn't in pads. The hope is he can put those back on for Thursday's practice. ... Defensive end Charles Johnson (hamstring) worked on the side for the first time since he went on the injured reserve/designated for return list. The earliest he can come back is against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day, but he's obviously making good progress.