The Carolina Panthers will be forced to take on the Seattle Seahawks without starting middle linebacker Luke Kuechly or starting safety Kurt Coleman, head coach Ron Rivera confirmed on Friday afternoon.
Both players are in the concussion protocol and have been listed as “out” for Sunday’s game.
Kuechly will miss his second consecutive start after a scary-looking collision against the New Orleans Saints during Carolina’s Thursday Night Football matchup last month.
Rivera did not specify when Coleman suffered his concussion, but confirmed it occurred against the Oakland Raiders last week.
The team’s leader in sacks, Mario Addison, also won’t play against the Seahawks, nor will right tackle Daryl Williams. Addison did not even make the trip and is recovering from a foot injury, while Williams, who is on the trip but not practicing, still appears to have a boot on his foot.
In place of the missing Kuechly will be A.J. Klein, who was targeted often last week by the Raiders in his first start this season and first game back from the concussion protocol.
“A.J. has done a nice job (this week),” said Rivera. “He’s practiced very well.”
In place of Coleman will be longtime backup Michael Griffin. Collin Jones will play backup and Robert McClain will be the “emergency” safety, said Rivera.
Trai Turner will once again make the switch from guard to tackle in place of Williams while recently-activated defensive end Ryan Delaire could again see a little time as a situational edge-rusher. Chris Scott will play at right guard, while Tyler Larsen will get his first NFL start in place of the two centers placed on injured reserve this week, starter Ryan Kalil and backup Gino Gradkowski.
“It’s kind of nice to have a little continuity (as the group that ended the Raiders game),” laughed Rivera. “I thought Trai Turner has handled (the switch) very nicely.”
Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin will likely play on Sunday, after being limited earlier in the week with a shoulder injury.
“I think it’s important to have him on the field,” said Rivera. “Again, you can just see his growth and development as a football player. That’s probably the most important thing is he’s out there getting quality snaps.”