French-Canadian David Foucault will make his national TV debut Thursday night as the Panthers’ starting left tackle.
Foucault, an undrafted rookie who made the team after tryout camp in the spring, will protect Cam Newton’s blindside by replacing Byron Bell, whose elbow and knee injuries forced him to sit out against the Saints.
Foucault played left and right tackle for the Panthers last week against Seattle as right tackle Nate Chandler battled a groin injury during the game. Panthers coach Ron Rivera decided to put Foucault at left tackle because he seems to be a more natural fit on the left side.
“I’m excited. He’s played well. He’s had opportunities,” Rivera said. “It’ll be interesting to see. As I said the other day, going into the season with the guys we had, we liked him but we didn’t know we were going to have to play him as soon as we have. I thought he responded pretty well when he got his opportunity against Green Bay. And then having to play both left and right this past Sunday, I thought he did a nice job handling it.”
Foucault will be joined on the left side of the line by fellow undrafted rookie Andrew Norwell, who played well last week against the Seahawks. Aside from four-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil, the Panthers’ offensive line will be made up of former undrafted players.
The Panthers had planned to essentially redshirt Foucault, allowing him a year to learn more about the NFL’s style of play. But with injuries to Bell, a season-ending back injury to backup Garry Williams and a calf injury to emergency tackle Amini Silatolu, it’s Foucault’s time.
“What do you want us to do?,” Rivera asked rhetorically. “We came out of camp with three guys (Bell, Chandler and Williams), and Amini was the emergency. Now you have four guys who have the potential to play left tackle for you that aren’t going to be available. One has a bad groin and he’s going to play right tackle. This is the situation we’re in.”
DeCoud questionable: Free safety Thomas DeCoud will be a game-time decision after straining his hamstring against the Seahawks, Rivera said.
DeCoud was limited at practice Wednesday and said later there would be no doubt he would be able to play if the game were Sunday.
If DeCoud can’t play, he will be replaced by rookie Tre Boston, and second-year safety Robert Lester would be active.
Along with Bell, five other Panthers are listed as out for the game. Cornerback Bene Benwikere (ankle), receiver/returner Philly Brown (concussion), Silatolu (calf), guard Trai Turner (knee) and running back Fozzy Whittaker (quad).
Brenton Bersin will be the primary returner in place of Brown, and quarterback/receiver Joe Webb will return kicks with Bersin.
Defensive tackle Kawann Short (ankle) is questionable for the game, but he’ll likely start beside Star Lotulelei.
Kuechly’s big day: Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly didn’t make every tackle in the Panthers’ 17-13 win against New Orleans in Week 16 last season.
It only felt that way.
Kuechly finished with 24 tackles in a victory that clinched the Panthers’ first playoff berth in five years. He tied a NFL single-game record for tackles that was established by New York Jets linebacker David Harris in 2007.
Kuechly also intercepted Drew Brees in the victory.
“I remember 24 tackles and a pick. The guy is a stud. He’s all over the place,” Brees said of Kuechly. “He was sideline to sideline. I felt like he was making every single tackle.”
Kuechly said he’s had other good games that weren’t reflected in his tackles total. But he enjoyed the Saints’ game because of the significance of the win.
“I think that was one of the more fun games I’ve played here, just with the stage of the game,” Kuechly said. “The rain (in the third quarter) was awesome. I think the fans were awesome. The way we won, I think everybody played great.”