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Notebook: Jaycee Horn ready to play some run defense this week

Jaycee Horn

CHARLOTTE — Even if this week's game might not be conducive to cornerbacks making a lot of plays, Jaycee Horn knows he has to be ready.

The combination of the Falcons' run game and a forecast with a lot of rain on Sunday means it might not be a day full of passing.

"You put your neck pad on, you know what I'm saying?" Horn said with a laugh Thursday. "You know they're going to try to run the ball because it's going to be a dirty game. Just going into the game having that mindset it's going to be a physical battle, a lot of running the football and just knowing as a corner, you got to show up in run support and also stay locked in on the pass keys too.

"So, it should be a fun game."

Or not, depending on your perspective. For Horn, it's a relief to just be out there playing, after he missed 10 games following a hamstring tear in the opener against the Falcons. He was on a pitch count two weeks ago against the Bucs but played all 52 snaps last week in New Orleans.

Horn said he felt "great," especially since he was able to make some plays. His breakup of a deep ball to Chris Olave last weekend was evidence he's well again, but he said that play didn't convey any particular relief since it was on one he had to go get.

"I ain't losing my confidence in that," he said. "Just me playing ball doing what I'm supposed to be doing, you know what I'm saying? But it was definitely fun, being able to make a play on the ball, though."

— The Panthers again practiced without Justin McCray, who started at left guard last week but lasted one snap. He was replaced by Cade Mays, who was a repeat in the Wheel Of Guards from earlier this season (the Panthers have played six different left guards and seven different right guards).

Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown wouldn't be pinned down when asked if that was the group they were sticking with (rookie Nash Jensen started at right guard for the second straight week.)

"Everybody who's up on the roster is going to be available to have an opportunity at that spot," Brown said.

Without McCray, the Panthers have Mays, Jensen, and center Bradley Bozeman to fill the three interior spots. They also have veteran Gabe Jackson, along with J.D. DiRenzo and Deonte Brown on the practice squad.

— The Panthers are up to fourth in the league in total defense, as measured by total yards per game. But they're 31st in scoring defense, allowing an average of 26.2 points per game.

(The 42 they gave up in back-to-back weeks against the Lions and Dolphins early in the year didn't help.)

"Well, the one area we got to be better at is the red zone. We just haven't done as good a job as I hoped, and I think we're capable of," defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero said. "So we've got to play better down there when people get the ball down there, regardless of how it happens, we've got to buckle up and just stop them.

"And a lot of that's going to be me; I've got to be better there. And then we got to play better, too."

The Panthers are allowing 72.1 percent touchdowns when teams get inside the 20, the second-highest rate in the league (ahead of only Chicago).

— A year ago, the debut of the team's black alternate helmets was a big deal. The 1-12 record makes it harder to get hyped, making it a more muted response this year.

"That's the least of our worries right now," Horn said. "We're trying to get a dub. But no, I'm definitely a fan."

At the same time, these guys are still human beings and enjoying each other's company.

On the ping pong table near the defensive end of the locker room, players broke out an oversized version of Jenga. Marquis Haynes Sr. woke up Thursday and chose violence, poking a block out of the next-to-bottom row to create maximum chaos. Moments later, Miles Sanders nudged one out a bit, and then slapped it loose aggressively as teammates laughed. Then Derrick Brown chucked a deck of cards at Shy Tuttle, trying to topple the blocks.

No one's minimizing what's happening, but they're also not moping.

"I think, especially in the situation we're in, it's helpful mentally to just stay a little loose, have a little fun, and just stay focused," veteran linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill said as he sat nearby the fun. "We're preparing just as much, if not more; we're doing extra things with each other trying to get ready for our opponents and stuff.

"But in the meantime, it's not helpful to be all uptight."

View photos from the Panthers' practice on Thursday in Week 15.

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