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State of the Union: Where do the Panthers go from here?

Bryce Young

CHARLOTTE -- "When stuff is stacked against you, odds aren't in your favor, you gotta find a way to come out strong."

Brian Burns' message, at first glance, is simple. Overcome adversity, move on and become better for it. But that doesn't mean the journey was easy. There was a lot stacked against the Panthers team this season. The odds were not in their favor. As for whether or not they'll come out stronger? They're still months away from being able to know.

Sitting at the conclusion of what felt like a never-ending season however, the 2-15 Carolina Panthers cleaned out their lockers on Monday with no choice but to look to the future.

"As players, all we can do is just go back home to our respective places and just get healthy and work our asses off because all this place needs just, it's a mindset," tight end Hayden Hurst said. "We got to come in here and work hard. Who gives a shit about record, who gives a shit about money? We just got to come in here and be competitive next year."

As the players head home though, there is a laundry list of free agents to be addressed, a head coach and general manager to hire, a quarterback to raise up and a roster in desperate need of some stability.

In other words, there are more questions than answers.

Three of those questions though dominated the time in the locker room Monday. And as guys packed up their belongings for the next few months, their answers provided some insight into where this organization can head next.

What is the biggest takeaway from this season?

Jaycee Horn: "Just a season built, going through the adversity that we went through. When everybody turned on us, we had to lean on each other in this locker room and it helped people become closer. So the brotherhood and the relationships that were in this locker room…even those bad seasons, you learn a lot. So that's mainly what I'm gonna take from it."

Brian Burns: "Two words: discipline and resilience. Because of what I was going through, mentally, emotionally, physically, discipline played a big part of that and I could've been a lot better with my discipline,. And resilient, I say that word because when everything's stacked against you or nothing makes sense, you still try to find a way to get through it. And I'm just glad I got through the season…I'm gonna get that tatted on me, just so I can remember, I'll always remember the season, but just so I can remember, those are some of my key values and things I can focus on."

Yetur Gross-Matos: "Just preserving through adversity. Lot of change. Season was not good. It was shitty all around. Nothing happened the way we wanted it to. But this group of guys stayed together, stayed as a team, had each others back, kept going out there and working. So just appreciating the season with my friends and my brothers moving forward."

Tommy Tremble: "I take everything as a learning experience. I feel like that's what makes you, takes you from being a good player or an average player to a great player, is learning from everything that you feel like didn't really go your way this season, and building that in the offseason, to make sure it doesn't happen again. It wasn't the result we wanted, but at the end of the day, you have to use that as fuel to make sure it never happens again. I feel like that's really what our mindset is going into this offseason."

Many of you have mentioned the losses bonded the locker room. Those losses can fracture a lot of places. Why did they bond this team?

Horn: "It's just a testament to how close we are. Sometimes it can split the locker room up, guys go different ways. But not this locker room. The core pieces of this locker room do a good job of leading, keeping everybody together and just leaning on each other. That's what I'm gonna miss the most about this season." 

Burns: "I think you create your strongest bonds through hardship and lessons learned. Those guys, they work just as hard as we do, they're here every day just like we are so we know the struggle they went through. I think ultimately it's gonna make us stronger….No body understands what we've been through except the guys in this locker room. With that being said, a lot of bonds are created through hardship." 

Tremble: "I really feel like because everyone here is super tight knit and really believes in each other and believes in our ability; at the beginning of the season, we really did think we were gonna go all the way, and I think just the little mistakes here and there and not relay being able to get the result we wanted, really just feeling, not disappointed but bad for each other that we couldn't get that success as a team and a whole unit, and I think that, it can either separate you or make you stronger and it made us stronger." 

Gross-Matos: "At times, everybody wants to point the finger and say it was this guys fault or this part of the teams fault. But the guys, they just embraced it. We just tried to come together best we could and overcome it."

Can this camaraderie and lessons carry over to next year?

Bryce Young: "That's kind of how we all look at it. It's a reset, we're all gonna start, we're gonna start 0-0 next year. So I think you get, you get optimism of it being a fresh start and, next year being a new year. But we know you're not just entitled to that because it's a later date. We have to put the work in. We have to take the ownership. We have to be better throughout the off season leading up to the season, all the little things. So we're all excited for what the future holds and we have to do everything we can to take advantage of that."

Horn: "It can. Obviously it has it's challenges just because it's a new roster and a whole new team. But when you've got good guys in the locker room that are setting the standard for everybody that's coming in, it makes it a lot easier for people to join the train and move along with the team. So hopefully we'll be able to recreate this camaraderie and brotherhood that we had this year."

Burns: "For sure. It's a season that we'll never forget. We'll never forget this season. As bad as it's been, it's definitely gonna be a lesson learned and a stepping stool to something greater."

Tremble: "It's really the idea of a football player. You can always get better, you can always do stuff better. Even if you're a Super Bowl winning team, you can do stuff better."

Gross-Matos: "Definitely. Year like this. Hopefully the guys that are here now will be here next year. But even if you move on to a new team, you take that with you forever."

View all the action from the Panthers' game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 18.

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