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Offensive line ready to reclaim their rep

Bradley Bozeman

CHARLOTTE — The Panthers had spent months putting together something resembling a personality. So to see it go so wrong so quickly last week against the Steelers was still tough to process.

Center Bradley Bozeman was emotional when he discussed after the game on Sunday and said Tuesday it was hard for him to even enjoy spending time with some family members that were in town for the game.

Watching the tape back this morning drove that feeling home again.

"We take a lot of pride in this," Bozeman said. "We take a lot of pride in what we do, and who we are, and our identity being a smash-mouth offense.

When it doesn't go that way, it's frustrating because you know you have the capability to do it, especially when you know you can do it on a certain group. You take it personally. It hurts. We had family in town, and it's like, 'I love you guys, but we're going to move on from football today.'

"It's one of those things; you have to take it with a grain of salt, process it, get through the film, look at it. It's never as bad as it feels in that moment. And it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be."

The Panthers rushed for a season-low 21 yards (the fewest the team has run for in a game since 2012), ran just 43 plays (the lowest of the season), and allowed four sacks. After the offensive line had built some momentum during the previous eight weeks under interim coach Steve Wilks, that was hard to process.

"It was bad, but it wasn't something that's devastating to our identity," Bozeman said. "We're going to continue to work. We came back today, shook back, and now guys are ready to roll on the path we were before."

Bozeman laughed and said, "oh for sure, absolutely," when asked if he knew Sunday night they'd be back in full pads tomorrow — using their last fully padded practice of the year — and Wilks said he's confident his line will respond.

"We always talk about violent hands, coming off the ball, getting to the second level, which we didn't do a great job of," Wilks said. "So those are things we got to go back and correct.

"When you have done something before, right, which we have, to me now, it's just going back and trying to recollect that. It's about the details. So I'm not concerned about us not being able to get back to it. It's just really trying to focus in on it."

— Cornerback CJ Henderson admitted he could have possibly returned to Sunday's game against the Steelers, but there was some concern whether he'd aggravate the ankle injury and make it worse.

He said after getting checked by the athletic training staff, he wasn't necessarily ruled out of the game, but he never felt comfortable, either.

"Probably could have. Would I have risked more games? I don't know." Henderson said.

Henderson was a full participant in practice Tuesday.

The Steelers repeatedly targeted his replacement in the lineup, Keith Taylor Jr., after Henderson left the game.

Wilks has expressed confidence in Taylor moving forward, and when asked whether Henderson could have potentially returned, Wilks replied: "That's a question for him. I think when you have the opportunity to see him in the locker room, you need to ask him that. But I felt like, you know, as the game was going on, whoever's out there, we got to find ways to make plays."

While cornerback Jaycee Horn was on the report as a limited participant with a shoulder injury, Horn made it clear he was playing Saturday against the Lions.

"I'm good," Horn said. "I just woke up sore. I don't know why. . . . But I'll play."

— Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold has had some solid four-game stretches here before. Last year, they won their first three games, and he played well through the first loss of the year at Dallas as well. During that span, he completed 99-of-146 passes (67.8 percent) for 1,189 yards, with five touchdowns and three interceptions and a 95.4 passer rating. He also had five rushing touchdowns during that span, which led the league at the time.

This year, the passing yards through three games are way down (509), as are the rushing touchdowns (one), but he hasn't turned the ball over since he reclaimed the job against the Broncos, throwing three touchdowns and no interceptions, for a passer rating of 98.6.

Asked to compare last year to this recent stretch, Darnold said he hadn't spent much time considering it, and fell back into his "one day at a time" approach to press conferences.

"To be honest, I haven't thought a ton about it," he said. "I think the biggest thing for me is just staying patient with everything. And, you know, truly taking it one play at a time, if I can continue to do that. And just kind of, you know, let the game come to me and not really force anything.

"Obviously, you got to pick your spots as a quarterback; sometimes, you've got to squeeze them in there. But yeah, I've just got to let things come to me during the game and continue to play that way."

— Pro Bowl rosters will be announced Wednesday night at 8 p.m. on NFL Network, and the Panthers have several deserving candidates.

But Horn, who is emerging as a top-shelf corner in the league this season, said he wasn't thinking about it.

"I'm trying to beat the Lions," he said. "I'm not thinking about the Pro Bowl at all."

— Wilks said the team was exploring a number of options at the cornerback position, and could bring someone in by the end of the week. The team released practice squad corner Tae Hayes Tuesday, leaving them a spot on the 16-man practice squad as well as two spots on the 53-man active roster.

One of those could likely be for return man Andre Roberts, who was designated to return from IR Tuesday.

View photos from Tuesday's practice as the Panthers prepare to take on the Lions.

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