On his way out the door, Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said one of his regrets was not obtaining a leader, a Ray Lewis or Tom Brady type who would motivate the locker room from the inside out.
The Panthers he left behind had a hard time arguing that he had a point.
“Any time you’re losing, it’s hard to stand up and be somebody to say, ‘Look at me. Lean on me. Follow my lead,’ ” left tackle Jordan Gross said, via Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer. “Everyone’s wired a little differently as far as what they’re comfortable saying
“We’ve 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 lack of leadership manifests itself in close games, and the record is self-explanatory. They’re 1-9 in games decided by a touchdown or less under head coach Ron Rivera (7-15 overall).
“If that’s what he feels, that’s what he feels,” wide receiver Steve Smith said. “Things are said for a reason, and it’s not all just to say [it]. He’s right.
“But because a guy steps up and does or doesn’t say anything, that still doesn’t change what our record is. We’ve got to play better and do things better.”
Of course, Hurney wasn’t talking about his veteran wide receiver or left tackle.
The guy who needs to bear the burden, quarterback Cam Newton, said the deposed GM “hit the nail on the head.”
“For a competitor, you don’t 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.”
Two of the guys they were counting on for such a role are already on injured reserve (Jon Beason and Ryan Kalil).
But if Newton assumes the mantle in more than words, and Luke Kuechly grows into the role on the other side now that he’s officially the middle linebacker of the future, the Panthers might have the next generation of leaders in place, with a nothing-to-lose year in front of them to prove it.