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Carolina Panthers

The Day After: Back in full pads this week


CHARLOTTE – Steve Wilks said Monday that he reflected on himself after the Panthers' 24-16 loss to Pittsburgh, and how to fix it. The Panthers' interim coach worked through what went wrong against the Steelers, and why Carolina didn't play to the physical standard that guided it to the last two wins.

One thing he landed on was putting the pads back on in practice this week – even though it's a short week before Detroit comes on Saturday, and it'll be the last practice in full pads of the season.

Per guidelines established in the collective bargaining agreement, teams can practice in full pads 11 times in the first 11 weeks of the season. In the final seven weeks, they can only go in full pads three times, and the Panthers used two of those opportunities up before going in shells last week in advance of the Steelers game.

Coming off a physical game at Seattle and the five-plus hour flight back, Wilks had determined that last week would be the first since he took over in Week 6 that the Panthers didn't practice in full pads.

"I talked to the staff about this, and I had already made this assumption, going into the Seattle game with anticipation of the long flight (and) hard-nosed game that we're going to take them off getting ready for the Steelers," Wilks said. "But this was really the first week since I've taken over that we weren't in pads, even though we only have one left. So I'm not looking to try to hold onto it. I want us to try to create that mindset … that we had previously. So was that the reason? I don't know. But I know we're going to get back to the standard and what we set." 

The Panthers dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball at Seattle, but they struggled to establish that identity against Pittsburgh.  

Carolina ran for just 21 yards on 16 attempts Sunday while allowing Pittsburgh 156 yards rushing, both uncharacteristic marks for a team focused on establishing the run on offense and stopping the run on defense.

"Across the board, we didn't play to the standard that we're used to," Wilks said. "We're going back this week, even on a short week; we're going to put the pads back on. That's something, again, that I tried to reflect on myself to figure out the answers to some of these things. And that's definitely going to be something that we'll get back to this week."

Wilks is set on establishing the physicality up front before Detroit brings running backs Jamaal Williams and D'Andre Swift to Bank of America Stadium.

After solidifying Carolina's identity as a run-first team, Wilks will also want to see more physical blocking from the offensive line to make way for D'Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard, who Pittsburgh stopped after they logged 74 rushing yards each against Seattle.

"Just getting back into pads, trying to create that mindset," Wilks said. "We have some veteran guys, but pretty much across the board, we still have a young football team, and that's what I need to consider. They still need to be guided in the right direction. And I think putting the pads on is that direction we need to go in, so I feel very confident about that."

– Wilks didn't have an update on starting cornerback CJ Henderson's health status after he left the Pittsburgh game early with an ankle injury.

Henderson appeared to be working out the ankle for trainers along the sidelines at various points throughout the game, but he never returned after logging four snaps.

Reserve corner Keith Taylor Jr. had a rough outing in Henderson's place against the Steelers' pass catchers. And while Wilks said he anticipated Taylor would get the start if Henderson couldn't play Saturday, he also mentioned bringing other defensive backs in the spot.

"It's definitely going to be by committee," Wilks said. "Keith would be the guy that will start, but then we have a strong rotation with possibly different guys coming in."

When Donte Jackson was placed on injured reserve, the Panthers lost depth at the position. Veteran T.J. Carrie is an option added late in the season, but he is the only other corner on the Panthers' roster. However, Carolina has two open spots on the 53 and could add another corner or bring someone up from the practice squad.

– Sam Darnold will start against the Lions after losing his first game since getting the keys to the offense ahead of Week 12, Wilks said.

The Panthers quarterback didn't shine against Pittsburgh, nor did he make game-changing mistakes. Darnold finished his day with 225 yards on 14-of-23 passing with one touchdown and no interceptions, though he was sacked four times.

Wilks said he had a conversation with Darnold on Monday morning, and they talked about not being afraid to extend drives with his legs and getting the ball out more quickly.

Wilks also pointed out missed opportunities for touchdowns, specifically two deep balls to Terrace Marshall Jr. One was a 40-yard completion down the Steelers' sideline that was stopped at the 7-yard line, and the other was a deep shot to Marshall near the end zone that was broken up by a defensive pass interference from Pittsburgh's Cameron Sutton.

"I thought Sam made some good throws yesterday," Wilks said. "A couple of throws, I felt like we had the opportunity to get out there a little quicker and a chance to have a touchdown. … I thought he did some good things, and we've got to do a better job of protecting to give him more time in the pocket."

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