Skip to main content

Russell Okung unhappy with 'unacceptable' offensive line performance in Week 1

Russell Okung

CHARLOTTE — If you listened to left tackle Russell Okung on Wednesday afternoon, you might have thought it was a postgame press conference.

The play Okung can't seem to get over happened on Sunday. But he described it as if it was 20 minutes ago.

"Honestly, the game comes down to fourth-and-1," Okung said. "We did not do enough to win the game, especially when it was on our backs."

With Carolina down by four, fullback Alex Armah was stopped short of the sticks at Las Vegas' 46-yard line as 1:11 remained on the clock. The play spurred discussion in part because Armah had the ball in his hands instead of star running back Christian McCaffrey at the most critical point.

But for Okung, the ballcarrier doesn't matter.

"I think any offensive lineman has enough pride and the gumption to say that when the game is on the line, and you're supposed to get a yard, you need that yard," Okung said. "I'm extremely disappointed in myself. We needed more. And we've got to figure out a way to win those situations."

It's a matter of pride for Okung, who returned to talking about the play even when asked about positive takeaways from Sunday's game.

"Maybe it's just me and my personality, but it's hard to really find other reasons to say that was a good game," he said.

Head coach Matt Rhule didn't quite share Okung's one-note assessment of the offensive line. The Panthers did record 128 yards rushing, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was sacked only once, and Las Vegas recorded just three quarterback hits.

The unit did all this while playing with veteran guard Michael Schofield, who had to step in for Dennis Daley. An ankle injury will likely keep the second-year guard out this week, too.

"I'm excited to get those guys back out there and have another week with that offensive unit working together and jelling," Rhule said.

While the Panthers kept Bridgewater mostly clean in Week 1, they'll have a different challenge this week in 2019 sack leader Shaquil Barrett. Okung and Barrett were teammates with the Broncos in 2016. Back then, Okung didn't see Barrett's career progression coming.

"He's been able to work his tail off year-to-year, and he's now an All-Pro player," Okung said.

Before exploding for a league-leading 19.5 sacks last year, Barrett totaled 14.0 through five seasons with Denver. But coming over to defensive coordinator Todd Bowles' scheme turned out to be a perfect fit.

"He's one of those guys who was a good special teams player," Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said. "We never had an idea he'd get 19.5 sacks, but once they started building up, he continued. He's a very, very slippery guy. He's got a good toolbox and a high motor."

Added Okung:

"He's going to give you a bunch of different rushes. I'm sure he watches a ton of film. He has a different play for every single tackle he plays against."

But Barrett, who recorded 3.0 sacks in a win over the Panthers in Week 2 last year, isn't the only impact player on Tampa Bay's D-line. The group added five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in a free agency, and 11-year veteran defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul picked up the Buccaneers' only sack last week in New Orleans.

"I've been playing against that guy for years," Okung said. "I'm going to have my hands full."

But even three days later, the one thing Okung could bring himself to say about Carolina's Week 1 performance up front was that not converting fourth-and-1 is "unacceptable." That's why this week, the unit is using its time in practice to ensure there won't be another letdown.

"I think Wednesday, we all came out ready to work," Okung said. "We have a really special room, I'm sure of that. And I'm looking forward to seeing what we do later on this week."


— Rhule and Arians share a common bond: They're both former head coaches at Temple. Arians was with the program from 1983-88, and Rhule from 2013-16. When Arians was the Cardinals' head coach, Rhule went to Arizona and spent a day at the franchise's facility during the offseason program.

But Rhule's most memorable interaction with Arians was when Temple beat Penn State in 2015. Arians' call was one of the only ones Rhule took during the post-victory celebration.

"The job (Rhule) did at Temple was outstanding," Arians said.

On the Panthers' injury report, defensive tackle Kawann Short (foot) didn't practice on Wednesday, but cornerback Donte Jackson (ankle) was a full participant. Jackson left Sunday's game and did not return, but Short was able to finish the contest.

— Because of the pandemic, there are different travel rules and restrictions for visiting teams. As Rhule explained, those in the traveling party — coaches, players, and staff — will not be allowed to leave the hotel, unless it's for a short walk. Wide receiver/return specialist Pharoh Cooper said it'll give the team more time to bond in the hotel and fine-tune the game plan.

View photos from the first session of Week 2 as the Panthers get back out on the practice field.

Related Content