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Offensive line has impromptu meeting after disappointing day

Ikem Ekwonu, Bryce Young

CHARLOTTE — Frank Reich had already finished his press conference and headed back into the locker room.

Several players had already showered and dressed, and quarterback Bryce Young was headed to a press conference to talk about all the hits he took in his preseason debut against the Jets.

And a few moments later, all of the offensive linemen walked in together from around the corner in their meeting room, sullen looks on their faces and eyes on the carpet.

They were coming from a supplemental meeting with offensive line coach James Campen, who called them back to give the first verdict on this game — that it wasn't anywhere close to acceptable.

"Yeah, just wasn't good enough today," center Bradley Bozeman, the first man through the door, said. "We've got to get it cleaned up.

"Just got to fix it. That's on us."

There were longer versions of that answer, some more eloquent than others, some more printable than others. But after setting such a high standard last year and bringing all the parts back, there was a consistent disappointment that the rookie quarterback's first game back got derailed by the Jets' pressure.

"Just disappointed. Not what we're looking for at all," left tackle Ikem Ekwonu said, after he let Solomon Thomas get around him and put the biggest shot on the quarterback. "He shouldn't be getting hit at all. That's on us. We just weren't good enough today.

"We've got to just attack it. A lot of things on tape we've got to fix. So that's the goal going into next week."

It didn't wait until Monday to get started, either. While Campen's quick come-to-Jesus meeting wasn't a detailed film breakdown, it clearly contained enough strong sentiment that it wasn't sufficient that no one in the room missed the message.

"Camp called us in, and we just talked. We had to keep it real with each other; the s--- wasn't good enough," veteran backup tackle Cameron Erving said. "Top to bottom, it doesn't matter if it was preseason, regular season, or offseason. The s--- was not good enough at any level, from any position, myself included, especially myself. All we can do is come back, try to regroup, and f---ing fix it.

"We know we did not play to our standard. So all that needed to be said was that s---'s not good enough. It's not about who's in it or who's called it; it just needed to be said and was said. . . .

"We saw what happened. Preseason or regular season, that's not acceptable. That's the only message we got across to each other, we cannot allow that to happen, ones, twos, threes, fours, it doesn't matter who's on the field, we can't let that happen."

James Campen

Campen's been here long enough to have developed relationships with many of these guys, but none more so than guard Justin McCray. He's played for Campen in four stops (Green Bay, Cleveland, Houston, and here), so he knew what was coming.

"He's disappointed for sure because we did not do the things we needed to do today," McCray said. "He's all about work. So we're going to get back to work on Monday, and he's going to be extremely hard on us because we should be hard on ourselves. We know that isn't our standard at all. He's going to be working us hard like he always does. We're just going back to the drawing board.

"At the end of the day, you can tell Campen loves his players, loves his guys, but if we're not doing the things he's coaching, and we're not performing the way he knows we can and should, then, of course, he's going to be a little upset. So we try to keep him as least upset as possible by just doing what he asks you to do, playing hard, and finishing. His main thing is finishing, and we've got to do a better job of doing those things."

McCray was one of three players to alternate at right guard during the three series Young played. He got the second shift, with Cade Mays going out first and Michael Jordan the third.

There's something of a competition for the right guard job until Austin Corbett is back from his torn ACL suffered last January, and the expectation is that someone from this group is going to have to play a few regular season games. Undrafted rookie Nash Jensen is also a candidate, but he didn't suit up this week because of a back issue.

Reich said the plan was to rotate all three that played this week, and that they'd continue to work through the options.

"Every position is an open position," Mays said. "Whoever plays best is going to be the guy. We've got stuff we're good at, things we have to work on, but we have to find out and get ready for Monday.

"Coach Campen's the same as us. We're disappointed. We feel like we didn't do good enough, but we're looking forward to fixing it. Just flush it and move on, but definitely it doesn't taste good and doesn't feel good."

That was evident from seeing their faces when they entered the locker room long after the rest of the team was already there. When you build a team specifically for a rookie quarterback, you know the offensive line has to be good. Saturday, a trustworthy group wasn't, and it stung.

"Today wasn't good enough," right tackle and conscience of the room Taylor Moton said as he packed his travel bag. "So we have to be very critical of ourselves. I've got to be critical of myself, and we've got to grow from this so we can be ready for the regular season. Campen's a great offensive line coach, I appreciate everything he does for us, and so we've just got to take the coaching.

"Like I said before, we can all grow from this. Because today was not good enough."

Check out scenes from the Panthers' first preseason game against the Jets.

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