The Carolina Panthers will face one of the NFL’s top rushing offenses without their top tackler and defensive leader.
Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly has been ruled out for Sunday’s game at Chicago while he remains in the concussion protocol.
This marks the third consecutive season in which Kuechly will have missed at least one game because of a concussion.
Meanwhile, Panthers No. 1 wideout Kelvin Benjamin is expected to play Sunday, despite being listed as questionable with a knee issue.
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Benjamin returned to practice Friday after missing the previous two days. Benjamin developed swelling in his bursa sac last week after taking a hit on his knee against Philadelphia.
“He had a good practice today, ran all the routes, caught the ball,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “He didn’t miss anything today.”
Rivera said free safety Kurt Coleman will be a game-day decision after being sidelined the past two games with a sprained MCL. If Coleman can’t go against the Bears, Carolina will continue with its platoon of Colin Jones and Jairus Byrd.
In addition to Kuechly, backup safety Demetrius Cox (ankle), running back Fozzy Whittaker (ankle) and tackle John Theus (concussion) also are out Sunday.
Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil is expected to play after missing the past five games with a neck injury.
The Bears have the league’s third-ranked rushing attack, fueled by the backfield duo of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, a rookie from N.C. A&T.
Stepping in for Kuechly in the middle of the Panthers’ 4-3 scheme will be David Mayo, a third-year player making his first career start.
Kuechly resumed practicing more quickly this week than he did following his previous two seasons, and is scheduled to meet with the doctors Monday morning in Charlotte.
Rivera said he believes Kuechly will be back for next week’s game at Tampa Bay “as long as he’s healthy and he’s ready to roll.”