Panthers fire 3 coaches, including special teams coordinator

Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers kicker Zane Gonzalez (5) is helped off the field after an apparent injury during practice before an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Panthers on Tuesday fired three assistant coaches, including special teams coordinator Chase Blackburn, offensive line coach Pat Meyer and defensive line coach Frank Okam.

Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer said on Monday the team’s primary goal this offseason was to improve its offensive and defensive lines, saying that success “starts up front.”

Carolina’s offensive line struggled all season and quarterbacks Sam Darnold and Cam Newton spent most of the season under heavy duress. The Panthers allowed 52 sacks, fifth most in the NFL and the team finished 5-12 and lost its final seven games.

Panthers coach Matt Rhule said prior to the team’s season finale that the organization needs to make a “true investment” on the offensive line. The Panthers have the sixth overall pick in the NFL draft.

Defensive end Brian Burns made the Pro Bowl, but the Panthers want more production from the defensive line, which led to Okam’s departure. As a whole, Carolina’s defense fared well with 39 sacks in the 2021 season, which ranked 15th in the league and the defense finished No. 2 overall. Okam was on Rhule’s staff at Baylor and had been promoted from assistant defensive line coach last season.

Blackburn was a holdover from previous head coach Ron Rivera’s staff.

The Panthers used four different kickers and three different punters.

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