CHARLOTTE — The Carolina Panthers suffered three potentially major injuries in their season-opening win over Dallas.
As the players began to go through evaluation and rehabbing, it appeared that at least two of them will result in fairly significant lost time.
Panthers players, coaches and fans all held their breath when the All-Pro linebacker went down, holding his knee in the second half. By the next drive, however, Kuechly was back in the game, and initial reports are that he merely hyperextended the knee.
“The best thing is I knew right away what had happened,” coach Ron Rivera said. “The doctors communicated that very well. Luke just wanted to come to the sidelines for a second to catch his breath, which he did. Once he got settled in, he was fine and ready to go back out there.”
Immediately after the game, Kuechly downplayed any lasting implications from the injury.
“I’m good,” he said. “I will be fine. I just got rolled up a little bit, but I’ll be good to go. … I went back in, and there were no issues with it.”
The team went most of the preseason without the starting right tackle after he tore his MCL in late July. He worked his way back and was able to start the opener, only to be carted off the field with an injury to the same knee in the fourth quarter.
Afterward, teammates appeared to be resigned to the fact that Williams had aggravated the injury. Initial reports from team doctors seemed to bring good news.
“That’s the one thing I do know about Daryl is that it is not the re-injury,” Rivera said. “I’ll tell you that much. That’s the one thing I do know. … He got rolled up on the back of the legs. Again, we will take a look at that, and the one thing they did tell me is they don’t think it is anything similar to what he did the first time, so that’s good to hear.”
That hope fizzled early in the week, when head trainer Ryan Vermillion announced that Williams would need surgery.
“Daryl injured his right knee when a Cowboys player fell into the side of his knee,” Vermillion said. “After evaluation, it is team physician Dr. Pat Connor’s recommendation that Daryl undergoes surgery to repair the injury.”
The Panthers are prepared for Williams to miss time, having spent all of camp getting ready to play without him. Amini Silatolu will likely step into his spot at right tackle, as he did late in Sunday’s game, with Greg Van Roten playing left guard.
The tight end’s prospects are probably the direst of the three injured Panthers.
For the second straight season, the Pro Bowl tight end went down with a foot injury in the Panthers’ home opener. Last year, Olsen broke the foot in Week 2 and went on injured reserve until Week 12.
On Sunday, Olsen appeared to be ready to assume his spot as quarterback Cam Newton’s top target. He caught two of Newton’s first four completions, gaining 33 yards in the first quarter. He left the game a short time later, however, and was on crutches and wearing a protective boot on the sideline during the second half.
Vermillion confirmed on Tuesday that Olsen had refractured the foot. He won’t have surgery “at this time,” instead looking to rest and rehab the injury.
“We will monitor his rehab and evaluate his progress on a monthly basis,” Vermillion said, seeming to indicate that he won’t be back anytime soon.
The task of replacing Olsen will fall on rookie tight end Ian Thomas and third year pro Chris Manhertz to pick up the slack at tight end. Thomas had two catches for four yards in the opener.
“I think he’s pretty well prepared,” Rivera said. “There are some things obviously that he still has to learn, and he’s got a long way to go in terms of having that natural feel that Greg has, having that rapport that Greg has. So we’ll see. … He’s been good with his blocking. He’s been good with his route-running. He’s been good with his receiving. But he’s got to get better as a blocker, route-runner and receiver.”
It appears that he’ll get the opportunity over the next few games, at least.