Sport

Russell Okung: “I always expected to play”

Russell Okung said Tuesday he wasn’t thinking about opting out, or retiring, despite a recent report from ESPN.

The Panthers left tackle, in his first videoconference interview since the initial report on Aug. 7, said it was never his intention to not show up.

“I always expected to play,” Okung said, via David Newton of ESPN.com. “It’s unfortunate that so many people, certain people in the media, are more interested in being the first to report as opposed to reporting something that is accurate. No conversations like that have been had in order for that individual to feel it’s necessary to put any information out there like that.

“Especially in this time, with so many people dealing with unemployment, to put any sort of farce information out there it’s extremely disappointing.”

Of course, his longtime advisor did say the veteran tackle was “keeping his options open,” which any reasonable person would do during a pandemic, so labeling it all fake news might be an overstatement as well.

Either way, Okung said he felt good about the procedures he saw in place with the Panthers. He missed 10 games last year because of blood clots, so health concerns were important for him. He’s also been dealing with some back tightness since the Panthers reported, and coach Matt Rhule has given him the opportunity to work inside in a pool during portions of practice.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t get to have the year I would like to have,” Okung said of 2019. “To have acknowledgement from the head coach, and say we want to make sure we take the best approach to make sure you return back safely to the game . . . has been good.

“I’m just getting worked back into everything. Today was a good practice. I was out there a lot longer than even I expected to be.”

The Panthers traded Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner to the Chargers for Okung, and have high expectations for him anchoring the line which will need to be good, if they’re going to be competitive with a completely rebuilt defense.