NFL: 13th lineup for Panthers?
CHARLOTTE ó The first player went down less than 30 minutes into the opening practice of training camp. And the injuries haven’t stopped for the Panthers.
Defensive end Tyler Brayton, one of only five defensive players to start every game this season, sat out practice Wednesday after sustaining a concussion. If he doesn’t play Sunday at New England, Carolina will trot out its 13th different starting defensive lineup in 13 games.
“Every time we look in our D-line room, it’s like we’ve got a revolving chair over there. It’s pretty funny,” defensive tackle Damione Lewis said. “Each year it’s a certain team that goes through this. This year it just happened to bite us.”
A year ago the Panthers were a model of consistency and good fortune in their 12-4 season. The same 11 players started on defense for the first 14 games before defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu hurt his ankle and missed the last two weeks.
But when Kemoeatu fell in a heap with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon while running by himself in one of the first drills of camp, it was only the beginning of a rash of debilitating injuries that have played a part in Carolina’s disappointing 5-7 season.
“A couple of our tackles weren’t even at camp with us,” coach John Fox said. “I’m still getting their names down.”
Perhaps the most surprising element of Carolina’s plight is that the defense is not the team’s biggest concern. The offense, also hit hard by injuries, has managed one touchdown in two games.
The defense has allowed only one touchdown in the last two weeks and Carolina ranks sixth in the league in pass defense after intercepting Tampa Bay rookie Josh Freeman five times Sunday.
“Young guys have been called on,” Fox said. “James Anderson ó who’s really our third-team (weakside) linebacker ó I think has played really well.”
Anderson is starting because Thomas Davis and his backup, Landon Johnson, are both on injured reserve. But that’s nothing like the trouble at defensive tackle.
The Panthers traded a sixth-round draft pick to Cleveland for Louis Leonard, who was expected to fill in for Kemoeatu. But Leonard broke his ankle and was placed on injured reserve on Sept. 22.
The Panthers later sent a fifth-round pick to Kansas City for tackle Tank Tyler. He, too, is on injured reserve with a knee injury.