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Carolina Panthers

After travel complications, Russell Okung working to stay ready during pandemic


In this current age of social distancing, most players — like most people — are at home doing their best to make the most of their situation.

Panthers left tackle Russell Okung isn't quite in the same boat.

Okung, whose home is in Southern California after spending the last three seasons with the Chargers, is currently in Miami staying at a friend's guest house with his wife, Samar, and nine-month-old son, Cairo. They've been there since last month after a quick trip to the Cayman Islands was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Something that was supposed to be a four-day vacation ended up becoming a 10-day ordeal," Okung said Tuesday. "We were trying to navigate through what the U.S. was going to do."

The original hotel Okung and his family were staying in closed due to the pandemic. So they moved to another hotel, until that, too, was forced to close. At one point, Okung and Samar called a lawyer just to make sure they could get back into the U.S.

Clearly, the situation worked itself out. But with travel restrictions getting more serious, the Okungs decided to stay in Florida.

"A good friend of mine had a guest house and we were just coming back into the states, so I was like, 'Hey, can I crash there?' I really wasn't prepared to go all the way back to California," Okung said. "So I've just been living out of his guest house for the past three weeks now."

"It was wild," Okung added, "but we made it — we made it back."

But without the benefit of in-person instruction and interaction in Charlotte, Okung said players will have to be self-starters to make sure they're ready whenever teams are allowed to meet and train in their facilities again. In some ways, it's similar to what Okung went through back in the 2011 lockout. Back then, Okung was entering his second NFL season with the Seahawks.

"I think it's important that players understand that we're going to have to take initiative," Okung said. "I remember in my time in Seattle when we were going through the lockout, that's exactly what happened. We knew we wouldn't necessarily know what was going on, who would be on the team — there were a lot of moving parts."

"I've already had some players reach out to me, and I've reached out to them and we've talked in passing," Okung continued, noting trust and chemistry is, "something you build over time, it doesn't necessarily come immediately. But to be in control of what we can do, it's going to be our preparation and readiness necessary — whether that's plays in the playbook or when doing drills on their own to go out there and put the best product on the field."

To that end, Okung lucked out at his friend's place, which has a weight room. But he's also being a little creative with his training.

"I just make it work," Okung said. "And then try to do some calisthenics with the baby just to make it fun."

As Okung continues to socially distance at his now-home away from home, he's doing his best to make the most of the situation — even if he does get on Samar's nerves at times.

"Pretty much my wife and I, we've been stuck in two rooms, really. And we have a nine-month-old. So it's actually brought us closer, I think," Okung said with a chuckle. "Now my wife may beg to differ, she's probably exhausted of living with me. But nonetheless, it's been pretty fun. It's been really fun, actually."