Panthers special teams coordinator Richard Rodgers said Sunday he had no word on his future with the team after the unit finished at or near the bottom of a half-dozen categories in the 2014 regular season.
“That’s up to the powers that be. I just coach football,” Rodgers said.
“We’ll have a meeting and we’ll see whatever they tell us to do, that’s what we’ll do.”
Carolina’s special teams unit finished last in the league in net punting average and punt return yardage allowed. They were next-to-last in kickoff return yardage allowed. In three other categories – kickoff return average, gross punting average and opponent’s gross punting average – Carolina finished in the bottom-quarter of the league.
“Always it’s tough when things don’t go right for you,” said Rodgers, who just completed his second season in his post. “I think for the most part we had an OK year. You want to kind of stay out of the way of offense and defense and let them do their thing, and it’s bad when you impact the game negatively. I thought later on as we got past the Minnesota stuff we got better. We were a little more focused and we finished strong.”
In Week 13 against the Vikings, the Panthers allowed two punts to be blocked and returned for touchdowns in their 31-13 loss. It was the first time in a quarter-century that happened in the NFL.
There were other mishaps throughout the year. Kicker Graham Gano missed seven field goal attempts in the regular season and postseason and Brenton Bersin and Philly Brown both muffed punts that led to touchdowns, with Bersin’s muff coming in the playoff win against Arizona.
The Panthers averaged 8 yards per punt return this season, good for 18th in the league the season after they did not re-sign Ted Ginn Jr. in free agency.
“Certainly they didn’t do anything to hurt us, but it wasn’t as game-changing on the return side of things as it was when we had Ted,” Rodgers said. “That’s no slight on anybody else. Ted does a good job, again a veteran. I think Brenton is a good player and as much as people kind of cringe and say ‘Oh he can’t do it,’ he came back and made five catches in the conditions (vs. Arizona). When you make a mistake and come back and make five catches, that speaks volumes for you as a person.
“I think the outsiders looking in saying, ‘Get him out of there,’ well, he’s got to learn. Just like anybody else. And he’ll be more confident with more opportunities he gets. You want to be a game-changer back there and those guys have that mindset and that’s why they’re back there. He’s no different from them.”
Lotulelei looking ahead: Star Lotulelei rocked up and down on his walking boot as he made his way toward his stall located towards the back of the Panthers’ locker room on Sunday.
Each awkward step acted as a reminder of a playoff game missed and a season cut short for the 6-foot-2, 320-pound defensive lineman, who suffered a broken bone in his foot during practice last Tuesday.
Following surgery to repair the fracture on Wednesday, Lotulelei – the Panthers’ 2013 first-round pick – was forced to watch from the sidelines as Carolina fell to the Seattle Seahawks.
According to players who saw the Lotulelei injury, it appeared that the 25-year-old stepped on a teammate’s foot before limping back to the locker room.
“I don’t really know how it happened,” said Lotulelei as he and his teammates packed the contents of their lockers into large black trash bags at Bank of America Stadium for the final time this season. “It was just in practice. I felt a little pain and I rechecked it after and (the doctors) told me what was up.”
Lotulelei said that almost immediately after the news broke, his phone began to buzz with encouraging messages.
“Everyone was texting me that they were thinking about me, especially the (defensive) linemen,” he said. “Everybody was asking how I was doing and checking in.”
Initial medical reports suggested that Lotulelei – who a week earlier helped the Panthers hold Arizona to the fewest yards ever in a postseason game – might be ready to suit up for the Super Bowl, should the Panthers make it that far.
However, Saturday’s result – in which the Panthers allowed an opponent to score more than 20 points for the first time in five games – made that possibility a moot point.
With Lotulelei out, the Panthers’ interior depth took one more hit on Saturday when Colin Cole, Lotulelei’s main replacement, left the game with a high-ankle sprain in the second half and did not return.
“(Saturday) was up and down for me,” Lotulelei said. “I was excited. I was pumped for the defense. I felt like they did a real good job with Marshawn Lynch (59 yards on 14 carries).
“I was excited watching the game,” Lotulelei added. “A little disappointed (I couldn’t be out there), but it is what it is.”
The experience, Lotulelei said, has only added to his desire to get healthy and return to the field next season.
Lotulelei then tossed a bag full of gear over his shoulder and began to make his way toward the exit.
“I’ll be ready,” he said as he rocked his way through the door. Seth Lasko
Chandler update: Offensive tackle Nate Chandler, who was on injured reserve the final two months of the season, is recovering from three recent surgeries. Chandler, the starter at right tackle for the first 11 games, had two surgeries on his right knee – a meniscus repair and a microfracture procedure.
Doctors also shaved bone spurs from Chandler’s big toe on his right foot, put a screw in it and “straightened it out.”
Chandler, who was still on crutches Sunday, wasn’t sure if he’d be ready for organized team activities in the spring.
“We’ll see how it goes, how I feel, and go from there,” Chandler said. “I felt good up to that Atlanta game (on Nov. 16), where it really was unbearable. So I had to go get (the knee) worked on.”
Unheralded pick-up Mike Remmers played well after replacing Chandler.
Staff writer Joseph Person contributed.