Here’s how valuable defensive end Charles Johnson is to the Carolina Panthers: It will take three players to replace him.
Johnson, who sprained his right knee when he was leg-whipped Monday night against New England, was officially ruled out of Sunday’s game at Miami.
The Panthers will go with a committee approach at Johnson’s spot, with undrafted rookie Wes Horton, a stout run-stopper, expected to share reps with pass-rushers Frank Alexander and Mario Addison.
It’s a rare opportunity for extended game action for players used to backing up Johnson, who has started 57 of 58 games since the start of the 2010 season.
Addison, fourth on the team with 10 quarterback pressures, said he’s ready.
“The price goes up when you’re coming from off the bench,” Addison said. “There’s a lot of pressure. Filling his shoes are big shoes to fill. I’ve got to get out there and do my thing and show these coaches what I’m really made of.”
Johnson leads the Panthers and is second in the NFC with 8.5 sacks.
Greg Hardy, the other starting defensive end, returned to practice Friday and is listed as probable. The Panthers held Hardy out of Thursday’s practice as a precaution after he complained of soreness in his knee.
Alexander had a promising rookie season last year, with 2.5 sacks and 18 pressures. But he’s been a healthy scratch in three games this year, including the Patriots game, and is looking for his first sack.
“It’s a big transition. But it’s still the second year in my journey,” Alexander said. “So there’s a lot of I’ve got to learn, and a lot I’ve just got to stay focused on and just keep trying to get to that goal.”
The Panthers had a defensive lapse against the Patriots after Johnson left the game in the third quarter. New England running back LeGarrette Blount averaged 5 yards per carry on seven second-half carries as the Panthers’ third-ranked defense got a little sloppy.
“We kind of lost the fundamentals for a minute. This defense is big on tackling, and we didn’t tackle the way we were supposed to,” Addison said. “But we’re going hard this week on the tackling. The fundamentals are back.”
After ruling out Johnson for Sunday’s game, the first question Rivera fielded Friday concerned Johnson’s availability for next week.
Johnson’s injury is similar to the sprained knees that have sidelined starting right guard Chris Scott and No. 2 tight end Ben Hartsock for multiple games.
What does that mean for Johnson?
“We’re going to see. We’ll find out as we go into next week where we are,” Rivera said. “It’s one of those things. You want to get him back as fast as you can. At the same time, you don’t want to get him back when he’s halfway back.”
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