Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly rode into Wednesday afternoon’s practice on a golf cart, helmet in hand.
It was his first appearance at practice with a helmet since suffering a concussion in a Nov. 17 Thursday Night Football matchup against the New Orleans Saints. Kuechly had a scary collision and was carted off the field in tears. He has been in the concussion protocol since and missed two starts.
Kuechly ran through drills with the linebackers. He was listed as “limited” in practice on the official injury report, but his return to workouts is a step in the concussion protocol.
“It’s just nice to see him back with a uniform on and a helmet on,” said tight end Greg Olsen. “Whether he plays or not, we don’t know. I have no idea how all that works. But just to see him back out there, it’s obviously a great step for him. That’s the biggest thing. It’s not about we’re a team. We all know how much we need him. But the best thing is just to see him back being himself and feeling good and being what makes him special.”
Safety Kurt Coleman, who also missed Sunday’s game while in the concussion protocol, was limited as well.
“It was good to see Luke and Kurt,” coach Ron Rivera said. “It’s one of those things, when guys get back on the football field it brings a little energy. I thought they sparked a little energy for the defensive guys.”
Rivera confirmed that Kuechly, Coleman and cornerback Daryl Worley, who was also limited in practice, are all still in the concussion protocol.
“They’ve moved to the next step of it,” Rivera said. “Tomorrow will be very important when they visit with our medical staff.”
Some questions had lingered throughout the Panthers fan community (especially on social media) as to whether Kuechly would be deactivated for the rest of the season regardless of whether he progressed through the concussion protocol and was ultimately cleared.
“My response would be that he’s a football player,” Rivera said. “And if he passes the protocol and he wants to play and the doctors want him to play, he’ll play. It’s that simple. I don’t control the protocol. But I do control the football team, in terms of, ‘We’re going out there to play, we’re playing (games) one at a time, we play to win.’ And we’ll see what happens.”
The Panthers have placed eight players in the concussion protocol nine times this season. Worley has been in the protocol twice.
Rivera said he thinks more time this offseason will be spent analyzing these head injuries and studying prevention – not just by team doctors, but by himself as well.
“It will be. To be very frank about it, I think it’s very important that, not just me, but that other people in this industry try to get to understand it a little bit more” he said. “Because who knows? Maybe there’s something that we’re missing in terms of preparation. ... I don’t know if there is an answer to it, but I think that if we are better educated, maybe we can spot things before they happen. Maybe there’s something else we can do as coaches and professionals in this business to see if we can make a difference.”
Kuechly was approached by the Observer in the locker room. When asked if he was talking, he referred to Thursday, his traditional day to meet with the media before he suffered the concussion.
He was then asked if that meant he was back to his “normal media schedule,” and he said he was not sure.
NBC reporter Michelle Tafoya spoke with Kuechly before Sunday’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks. She reported that Kuechly told her that he did not know why he was crying after his collision, and that he hoped it in fact was because of his concussion because otherwise, he couldn’t explain the tears.
In other injury news, Panthers defensive end Mario Addison (foot) again did not participate in practice. Addison did not make the team’s 10-day trip to the West Coast. Defensive end Charles Johnson (hamstring) did not participate and is “week to week,” according to Rivera. Linebacker David Mayo (concussion) remains in the protocol and did not participate. Tackle Daryl Williams (ankle) also did not practice. Williams said the earliest he feels he can return is next week.
Finally, running back Jonathan Stewart (rest day) didn’t practice.