After hed been fired Monday, former Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney questioned the makeup of the teams locker room, saying the team needs more leaders willing to step up when times are tough.
Wednesday, the Panthers two longest-tenured players wideout Steve Smith and left tackle Jordan Gross did not necessarily disagree with Hurneys assessment.
Any time youre losing, its hard to stand up and be somebody to say, Look at me. Lean on me. Follow my lead, said Gross, who will set the team record with his 142nd career start Sunday against Chicago.
Everyones wired a little differently as far as what theyre comfortable saying, Gross added. Weve had a lot of speeches and a lot of words. I agree with what Marty said about guys having to step up at all different levels.
The Panthers (1-5) have lost four games in a row the past three by six points or fewer. In two seasons under coach Ron Rivera, Carolina is 1-9 in games decided by a touchdown or less.
Hurney said teams that lose close games usually continue that trend throughout the season.
So somebodys got to step up and say enough is enough, Hurney said. Because when it comes down to those games and it comes down to those plays, I think its a matter of confidence.
Smith, who has spent each of his 12 seasons with the Panthers, said he had spoken with Hurney recently.
If thats what he feels, thats what he feels. Things are said for a reason, and its not all just to say (it), Smith said. Hes right. But because a guy steps up and does or doesnt say anything, that still doesnt change what our record is. Weve got to play better and do things better.
Hurney pointed to Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis and New England quarterback Tom Brady as effective leaders. Panthers safety Haruki Nakamura, who played four years with Lewis in Baltimore, said the Ravens locker room was full of leaders.
The place I came from, it wasnt just one person. Its a whole organization. It takes everybody, Nakamura said. And as a team, weve only got one win. Thats everybodys responsibility. Its not one persons. Its not one person to say, Hey, all of a sudden weve got to start winning.
With his demeanor on the sideline and after losses, second-year quarterback Cam Newtons leadership skills have been questioned. Newton called himself a bad teammate during the offseason, and said Wednesday that Hurneys comments hit the nail on the head.
For a competitor, you dont start looking out and saying, Who is he talking about? Newton said. You take on the challenge and say I can improve a lot more on my leadership just like this particular person, that particular person, this position, that position, that coach, whoever you are.
Defensive end Charles Johnson is the Panthers highest-paid player after signing a six-year, $76 million deal before the 2011 season. But Johnson is a reluctant leader, at least vocally.
I dont consider myself a leader, Johnson said. Id rather show my stuff on the field and lead by example. I lead by example instead of words.
Johnson said that when he joined the Panthers in 2007, there were a number of leaders, including defensive end Julius Peppers, linebacker Dan Morgan and quarterback Jake Delhomme. As the roster changed, so did the locker room dynamics.
But Johnson said there are current players who are willing to speak up, from Gross and Smith to linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, the teams union rep.
Hurney believes there are players capable of taking on more leadership responsibilities. Rivera pointed to injured center Ryan Kalil with his preseason Super Bowl ad in the Observer as someone willing to step up and put it on the line.
Even with his teams slow start, Rivera liked the message Kalil sent.
I said, if you dont have 52 others who share that sentiment then somethings wrong, Rivera said. Maybe thats part of the problem. Maybe that thought process isnt where it needs to be right now. And its my job to find out.
Gross, drafted by Hurney in the first round in 2003, said he wishes there were words that would have helped Hurney keep his job.
If I could have said something differently to make the record not be 1-5, I would have been happy to have said it, Gross said. There are a lot of reasons that hes not here. And a lot of them have to do with the players. And some are probably leadership and some are probably performance.
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