Carolina already lost Damiere Byrd to injury once this season, and now must plan around his absence again.
Byrd will go on injured reserve a second time after hurting his knee against Tampa Bay on Sunday. It was just his fourth game back after spending eight weeks of the season on injured reserve with a broken forearm, suffered in Week 4.
The speedy receiver has been a key piece in providing a much-needed jolt to the Panthers’ offense, especially over the past two weeks. Byrd scored three touchdowns in two games, including the now-famous “tushdown” catch against Green Bay and a franchise-record 103-yard kickoff-return touchdown on Sunday before he was injured.
“(His spirits) are down, obviously,” said Panthers coach Ron Rivera on Tuesday. “He wants to be part of it and he’s done a great job to be part of it. And he’s earned it, and that’s the most disappointing part. Here’s a young man that does everything the right way, and unfortunately this happens.”
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Byrd left Sunday’s game after taking a hard hit on his second-half-opening kickoff return. He was officially announced at the time as having a knee injury, but Tuesday Rivera only said that the injury is to Byrd’s “lower leg.” He was also unsure whether Byrd would need surgery, but a source said Byrd will not.
Carolina’s receiving corps for the team’s upcoming playoff run consists of tight end Greg Olsen, running back/receiver Christian McCaffrey, Russell Shepard (who missed last week with a shoulder injury but is expected back this weekend), Devin Funchess, Kaelin Clay, Brenton Bersin and Mose Frazier.
“It’s tough,” said Rivera, referring to losing Byrd from the rotation. “But Kaelin Clay stepped up and did some really good things for us, Bersin has been very consistent, and plus we’ll get Shep back this week. We feel good about it. We felt Mose Frazier is a guy that we’ve liked since training camp, and he got his opportunity and went in the game and did some things we needed him to do. So it’s a little bit of a shot to what we’re tying to do, but at the same time, we have guys that will come in and fill that role as well.”
Rivera does not anticipate signing a free-agent receiver. He also said McCaffrey might be back in the rotation on kick and punt returns, after the staff pulled back from using him in the special-teams role to lighten his workload earlier this year. The team will undoubtedly lean on McCaffrey, who leads the team in receptions with 75, in the slot, but will miss Byrd’s ability to stretch the field.
The Panthers will also get back linebacker Thomas Davis and defensive end Charles Johnson from suspensions. Davis served a one-game suspension Sunday for his hit on Packers receiver Davante Adams. Johnson served four games for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drugs policy.
Johnson is expected to immediately be back in the defensive-end rotation, depending on his physical readiness.
“We’ll see how it goes,” said Rivera. “He’s got to be in shape and ready to roll. It’s been a little bit of a break and I expect him to be ready to roll. But we have got to practice and make sure he’s ready to go.”