With a divisional matchup on Sunday, an injury-ravaged offensive line and one of their most important offensive weapons on the shelf for the forseeable future, one would think that the biggest questions heading into this weekend would involve Takkarist McKinley, Julio Jones or Luke Kuechly.
Instead, they’re centered around a gal named Florence.
As the category four hurricane that is forecasted to crawl up the North Carolina coast and smash the Panthers’ home state with high winds and heavy rains, the team is keeping an eye on the storm and making preparations not only for the players and coaches, but for their families that live in the area as well.
“I know that [Director of Football Ops] Bryan Porter, [Director of Security] Eddie Levins and Marty [Hurney] along with Mr. Tepper have been trying to make contingency plans and have something in place for our players [and] for their families,” Ron Rivera said Wednesday, adding that the team would look at all options and evaluate on a daily basis their practice schedule and when to head to Atlanta. “Our thoughts and prayers most certainly go to anybody that’s in the path of this hurricane – make sure everybody’s safe.”
Captain Munnerlyn, who grew up in Mobile, AL and has dealt with hurricanes multiple times, including Katrina in 2005, said that his mother is already urging his wife and kids to head down to her house to avoid the path of the storm – no matter when the Panthers nickel cornerback leaves town. But he, along with other players who reiterate the same message, aren’t letting the hurricane, which FEMA associate administrator Jeff Byard said would deliver a “Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina Coast,” stand in the way of their game preparation.
“I’m worried, but at the same time, we’ve got a job to do,” said Munnerlyn. “My biggest concern is my family – but for us, we’ve got a game to play. If it’s getting out of here early and preparing ourselves to win a football game, that’s what we’ve got to do; the coaches are going to come up with something for our family, because I know that’s what most guys are worried about are their families.”
The message is the same a few miles down I-85, where the Georgia governor has declared a state of emergency with some forecasted models of Hurricane Florence showing the storm heading further south towards Atlanta.
“What I have monitored is guys who have family members, especially down by the coast, whether it be South Carolina or North Carolina,” said Falcons Coach Dan Quinn. “But past that, we haven’t heard too much [about] guidelines. One thing from a travel and logisitics standpoint – where the two cities are close enough that the teams can get here; whether the [Panthers] come early or drive down or however it works – but we’ll be ready and I know [the Panthers] will be too.”
The Panthers usually fly the day before a game, but have bussed to Atlanta in the past – no one is ruling out the possibility of leaving on Friday after a walkthrough or altering their practice schedule to avoid the path of Florence – but one thing is certain: if a game is played on Sunday at 1PM, the Panthers will be prepared.
“We’re trying not to make it a distraction – just normal business as usual,” said Wes Horton. “Wherever we’re practicing, whether it’s inside or outside, wherever it is, we’ll just adjust – we’re pros, so whatever they have us doing, we’ll be ready for it.”