In the locker room, ques­tions still linger

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Encore - [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com Brendan Marks: 704-358-5889, @bren­danrmarks BY BRENDAN MARKS

It is al­ways an odd scene on Carolina Pan­thers locker clean out day, and the Mon­day af­ter the last game this sea­son was no dif­fer­ent.

Less than 24 hours af­ter the team’s sea­son-end­ing 33-14 vic­tory over the New Or­leans Saints, play­ers were at Bank of Amer­ica Sta­dium pack­ing up their be­long­ings for the off­sea­son. Here’s what it looked like, from the in­side:

8:34 A.M.: Un­drafted rookie guard Brendan Ma­hon, who suf­fered a con­cus­sion and was placed on in­jured re­serve ear­lier in De­cem­ber, is one of the first out of the build­ing, haul­ing a card­board box to his car while try­ing to avoid Char­lotte’s morn­ing rain.

9:09 A.M.: The en­tire Pan­thers locker room is opened to the me­dia. Large card­board boxes are strewn ev­ery­where.

9:10 A.M.: Of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Norv Turner stum­bles into the locker room briefly, but when greeted by mem­bers of the me­dia opts to leave.

9:12 A.M.: Head coach Ron Rivera walks through and smiles.

9:14 A.M.: Wide re­ceiver Devin Funchess, who started the year as the team’s No. 1 tar­get but was a healthy in­ac­tive for the sea­son fi­nale, strolls through the back of the room and right out the front. He de­clines in­ter­view re­quests.

9:17 A.M.: Rookie safety Rashaan Gaulden and veteran Eric Reid swing by their lock­ers. Cor­ner­back James Brad­berry, wearing socks and slides, does the

same a minute later. 9:22 A.M.: Sev­eral play­ers have en­tered the locker room as team meet­ings wrap up. Quar­ter­back Cam New­ton fi­nally ap­pears a minute later car­ry­ing his jersey. As he goes by the wide re­ceivers in the room, Cur­tis Sa­muel and Jarius Wright laugh at New­ton. “You shouldn’t have!” Sa­muel jokes as New­ton walks by with a No. 1 jersey. 9:29 A.M.: Tight end Greg Olsen, who had sea­so­nend­ing surgery on his twice-frac­tured right foot, rolls in. His leg still rests on a rolling scooter, and he’s still wearing a sig­na­ture beanie. “I’ll be back,” he says, be­fore rolling him­self back away from his area.

9:36 A.M.: Spe­cial teams cap­tain Colin Jones drops a few pairs of cleats into a box, while nearby nickel Cap­tain Mun­ner­lyn meets with re­porters. Mun­ner­lyn’s locker is next to line­backer Thomas Davis’, who is a free agent af­ter this sea­son.

“Me be­ing an older guy, it def­i­nitely gets harder coming in on a day like this,” Mun­ner­lyn said. “You never know how much this team is go­ing to change and things like that, so def­i­nitely a hard day.”

9:50 A.M.: Davis fi­nally speaks to the me­dia, re­it­er­at­ing that he would like to be back with the team next sea­son and that he still knows he can con­trib­ute. He also adds that he can­not see him­self with any other team, nor did he have a clear timetable for when his fu­ture will be re­solved.

“You can’t put a time­line on things. Like I said be­fore, I ain’t ever been a free agent, so not re­ally look­ing for­ward to be­com-

ing one.”

9:53 A.M.: Punter Michael Palardy says good­bye to friends on the team. Asked what’s next for him, Palardy replies, “Time to be dad of the year.”

9:57 A.M.: De­fen­sive tackle Kyle Love, one of the team’s many im­pend­ing free agents, stops to an­swer re­porters’ ques­tions.

“Most def­i­nitely I want to come back. I love this or­ga­ni­za­tion, it’s been great for me here,” Love said. “I love the coach­ing staff here, the city of Char­lotte, and I would love to stick around if I can. If they bring me back, I’m ready to roll again.”

Love says he thinks free agent de­fen­sive end Julius Pep­pers, one of the NFL’s old­est play­ers, will be back for an­other sea­son. Pep­pers is cur­rently a half­sack away from hav­ing the third-most sacks in league his­tory, and he has said he will make a de­ci­sion on his fu­ture af­ter a pe­riod of re­flec­tion.

Love, grin­ning: “He’s still got some (football) left in the tank.”

10:11 A.M.: Safety Mike Adams, the team’s sec­ond-old­est player and an­other up­com­ing free agent, walks in with two clean white foot­balls of his own. He has backup nickel back Corn Elder sign, then re­turn spe­cial­ist Ken­jon Barner. 10:15 A.M.: Rivera re­turns, and on the way to an­other meeting, stops with the me­dia for a few min­utes. Af­ter spec­u­la­tion this sea­son that Rivera’s job was in jeop­ardy, es­pe­cially dur­ing the team’s se­v­engame los­ing streak af­ter a promis­ing 6-2 start, Rivera says he has met with owner David Tep­per and is un­der the as­sump­tion he will be back in 2019.

“If you ul­ti­mately think about where Mr. Tep­per is coming from, and that’s hav­ing been in Pitts­burgh where they do things with pa­tience and (are) very di­rect with things, so I just feel very for­tu­nate,” Rivera said. “I had an op­por­tu­nity to visit with him, talk with him about things in terms of our prepa­ra­tion go­ing for­ward, and we’ll con­tinue to do that and I’ll con­tinue to work as we’re work­ing to­ward next sea­son.

“Again, I don’t want to talk for him, but we’ve met, we’ve talked about go­ing for­ward and we’ll con­tinue to do that.”

Rivera doesn’t want to spec­u­late on any po­ten­tial staff changes or New­ton’s in­jured shoul­der. For­mer Pan­thers de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Steve Wilks was fired Mon­day af­ter just one sea­son as head coach of the Ari­zona Car­di­nals, so his re­turn is pos­si­ble af­ter Rivera stripped cur­rent de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Eric Washington of his play-call­ing du­ties mid­sea­son.

Rivera did say, how­ever, that what­ever the medical staff and New­ton de­cide to do about New­ton’s in­jured shoul­der, he’d like any po­ten­tial pro­ce­dure done sooner than the last time, when it took sev­eral months af­ter the 2016 sea­son ended for New­ton to have surgery in 2017.

“What­ever is go­ing to be de­cided,” Rivera said, “I’d like to see them do right away, what­ever it is.”

10:22 A.M.: The Carolina Pan­thers locker room of­fi­cially closes — and so too does the team’s 2018 sea­son.

SCOTT FOWLER [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

Boxes and good­byes dom­i­nate the scene in the Carolina Pan­thers locker room on move-out day af­ter a dis­ap­point­ing 7-9 sea­son.

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