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Steve Wilks keeps his focus on "trying to win today"

Steve Wilks

CHARLOTTE – Steve Wilks said he wanted to be the first voice the Panthers heard Friday morning after news of Christian McCaffrey's trade to San Francisco broke overnight.

He met with the team before their regularly scheduled practice. Preparation for Sunday's game against Tampa Bay would move forward, even without the star running back.

The news was big. The Panthers still went to work for Week 7, and practice felt as normal as could be expected. That morale impressed Carolina's interim coach, who's simply looking to stack up wins with an offense that hasn't figured out how to be efficient through the season's first six weeks.

"I never cease to be amazed by the men in that locker room," Wilks said Friday. "With the news this morning, talking to the team about Christian, the effort and the energy I saw out there today was very impressive. It's very unfortunate, and it's part of the business that we live in. We know this is what we signed up for."

The business is that Carolina made a sacrifice for long-term gains, opening up options with future draft capital. The late-week move came just days after they sent wide receiver Robbie Anderson to Arizona for two draft picks.

The short-term reality is the Panthers had the league's worst total offense and worst third-down conversion rate with starters McCaffrey and Anderson on the field.

Wilks now has another challenge – to react in the present, knowing these recent moves are aimed toward the future.

He knows the reality of the Panthers' offensive issues. They haven't been able to move the ball effectively or create any consistent rhythm. At the same time, Wilks said the answer isn't throwing in the towel.

"As professionals, we take a lot of pride in what we do, coaches and players," Wilks said. "There's no such thing as tanking when it comes to myself or the men in that locker room. Yes, we have been struggling a little bit in the past with our offense. It's an opportunity for other guys to be able to step up and make some things happen.

"I'm excited about the guys we have in that running backs room. I think those guys will step up accordingly and be able to take the workload."

That's D'Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard – a duo combining for 71 yards on 18 carries through the season's first six weeks – as well as Raheem Blackshear, a rookie who got here last month from the Bills' practice squad and has yet to attempt a rush, though he made an early impact as a kickoff returner.

Foreman's 37 yards on 12 attempts pace the remaining running backs, averaging 3.1 yards per carry. He put up a solid year with the Titans in 2021, stepping up after Derrick Henry was injured, taking 133 carries for 566 yards in nine games.

Now, Foreman said he knows someone has to step up here in Carolina. The Panthers are without McCaffrey, but they have 11 games to go.

"For me and the other guys in that locker room, I know that there are opportunities out there," Foreman said. "In this league, when you get your opportunities, you've got to go out there and do what you've got to do."

As more pieces shifted under his interim stint, Wilks has maintained the same attitude since he took over less than two weeks ago. He isn't focused on what's far out; he has kept himself largely in the present.

"From day one, my focus is just really trying to win today, each and every day," Wilks said. "Whatever happens at the end, we'll deal with it when it comes. My focus is to make sure that those guys, the men in that locker room, are prepared and ready to play. We've had a great week of practice, and I'm looking forward to the outcome on Sunday."

Check out the best photos from Thursday's practice as the Panthers prepare to take on the Buccaneers this weekend.

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