Sports

Panthers have team meeting to clear the air

CHARLOTTE -- Over the last week or so, the talk has trickled out of the Carolina Panthers' locker room.

The floodgates were opened Wednesday, after guard Mike Wahle called a players-only meeting to discuss the issues of the team.

Wahle didn't want to say much about it, seemingly peeved word got out at all.

"The team is talking," he said. "It's not a big deal."

Actually, the way things have been going, it might be.

The Panthers have stammered to a 2-2 start, and really haven't looked as good as their record might indicate. Then came Kris Jenkins' diatribe last week, when he said, "We have no heart, we have no energy, we have no pride."

That will obviously be one of the first orders of business.

"He's speaking his mind, that's how he feels, and I'm pretty sure he'll say the same things today," defensive tackle Damione Lewis said. "You have 53 guys with 53 different opinions. We'll talk about it and get it straight."

Lewis was among a handful of veterans who have been through such gatherings before. He recalled one in St. Louis, after the Rams had lost six in an eight-game stretch to squander a 4-2 start. They closed with two wins, making the playoffs at 8-8, then winning at Seattle before losing at Atlanta in the divisional round.

Tight end Christian Fauria, who's been with Seattle and New England (including a pair of Super Bowl runs) said the meetings can be productive, provided teams don't go to the well too often.

"All I know is you can only have it once," Fauria said. "Once you do, you can't keep having team meetings because it loses its credibility. I don't know what we're going to talk about. It might be what we're going to do Friday night. It might be about dinner. Maybe the buses come at 6 instead of 6:30.

"It's never a bad thing, but you just want to make sure everyone is on the same page and everyone realizes it's not time to panic."

That accountability seems to be the issue of the day.

Once Jenkins unloaded, he didn't back away from the comments, and said there was a reason he took his feelings public -- so no one could shrink from them. The doors were going to be closed Wednesday and several players said they expected more of the same -- from many parties.

And while Jenkins came out blasting, he never called out another player, saying the failures were institutional.

"It's good to know that nobody is pointing fingers saying you may be the guy that gave up the big play or something," cornerback Ken Lucas said. "You know that everyone still has your back or no one is pointing a finger at you and blaming you for what is going on right now.

"Without everybody being in there together, you can't accomplish anything. If you have one guy doing his own thing, then it's hard to very hard to go out and be successful every week."

Quarterback David Carr was quick to reply when asked if the meetings were good, saying hearing from the players can personalize the message.

"Lots," Carr said. "There are so many times where you get in a rut. You go in, see your position coach, go out to practice. But you get in there and hear it from a guy's heart and hear what they really feel about what is going on. I wouldn't say it makes you play better but it definitely makes you accountable to your guys.

"You want to step it up for them."

The reason things seem so dire is the Panthers again came into the year with high expectations. That's why even the wins seem tainted, and not just because they were against teams with a combined 1-7 record.

They allowed Atlanta to go up and down the field before cornerback DeAngelo Hall melted down, enabling them to take control of the game. They coughed up a 14-0 lead by giving up 34 unanswered points to Houston, and they were shellacked at home by Tampa Bay.

The thing they're clinging to is the fact it's early, and they're only a game out of the division lead. So if the meeting works, they know there's plenty of time to turn things around.

Of course, they have to follow it up by playing better.

"It's early, and we have a lot of football to play," Lewis said. "But we have to get on the same page and be much better than we are. And we know we're better than what we're putting on the field right now."

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