What we learned from Panthers’ 2021 exit interviews

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What type of bow can one really put on the Carolina Panthers’ tumultuous 2021 season? Well, probably not a pretty one considering their numerous injuries, a 2-12 finish and just an overall feel of volatility throughout much of the process.

But a handful of players tried on Monday. Here are the best bits from the Panthers’ exit interviews this morning.

Donte Jackson

AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman

Jackson and fellow cornerback Stephon Gilmore are free agents this spring. But he believes there can still be room for both he and the former Defensive Player of the Year in Carolina:

“I don’t think it’s an either-or thing. I think we’ll see when it gets down to that moment. But I don’t think we look at it as an either-or thing. I think we look at it as a trying to get the team better thing. I think that’s really what it is.

“I don’t think of it as any competition or anything. He’s like big bro. He’s shown me so much since he’s arrived here. Yeah, I don’t really look at it like that.”

Sam Darnold

AP Photo/Butch Dill

Darnold identified a few personal improvements he’ll be looking to make this offseason:

“I have a feeling of what I need to work on. Keeping calm in the pocket, keeping my feet calm. And keeping two hands in the ball in the pocket, even when I try and scramble.”

Christian McCaffrey

AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman

McCaffrey—who has missed 23 of the team’s past 33 games—will look to make adjustments to his preparation and recovery, but can take solace in knowing he’s trying his absolute best:

“I’ve trained a certain way for a long time. And if you relate what you do in training, to, I had a couple of 300-pound guys fall on my ankle when I was already down. I didn’t mean that to happen. I would love to know there’s a drill someone’s got out there to prevent that from happening. I would do it every day. It’s continuing to trust in my abilities and my training and what I do. I’ve seen guys get hurt; it’s part of the business. But I’m content knowing I have the capabilities to continue to have success.”

He was also asked if he’s talked with the team about a move to the slot. His answer?:

“No.”

Shaq Thompson

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As he’s stated all season, Thompson believes the Panthers have to be more consistent through all three phases of the game:

“In order to win in this league, you’ve got to have complementary football. That’s everything. Special teams, offense, and defense. That’s just something we can’t really do this year. I mean, you see glimpses of it here and there, but that’s something that we’ve got to have to be consistent with.”

Jaycee Horn

AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman

Horn sustained what turned out to be a season-ending foot injury back in Week 3. He wasn’t sure, however, if he would’ve been cleared to return had the Panthers continued on into the postseason.

“I’m not sure. I was just taking the advice of the trainers and doing the rehab. And if they felt I can come back if we were in the playoffs, then I might’ve been able to come back. I’m not sure.”

Haason Reddick

AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman

Reddick, who is billed at 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds, wants to add some bulk before stepping into the locker room in 2022—wherever that may be:

“I played at about between 235 to 240 this year. My offseason goal is to come in, no matter where I’m at, I’ve already made the decision that I will be coming in at around 250 pounds. Probably right there where I can have some more weight to bull guys and then also keep my speed.”

Cam Newton

AP Photo/Rusty Jones

Newton is unsure of his role moving forward, but knows he wants to be apart of a winner in the future:

“Yes, I still do think I can play at a high level. Absolutely. But if an opportunity presents itself where I don’t necessarily need to play and it’s about winning, yeah, I’m willing to do that too. This point forward, I’m not coming back for no 5-12, I can tell you that now. Winning makes everything better. So to what degree am I willing to do—whether it being the starter or not—if it’s about winning, I’m with it.”

He also believes not everyone in the organization fully committed to the process it takes to win:

“I don’t think a lot of guys really bought into it. And when I say ‘guys,’ I’m not throwing nobody under the bus. I won’t do that. But buying in isn’t just verbally committing. Buying in is being the pig and not the chicken. If that makes sense, if you guys ever heard the story of the commitment level of the pig. The pig gave his life, the chicken just produced an egg.”

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