Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly has cleared the concussion protocol, the team announced Friday, and is expected to play Sunday at Tampa Bay.
Kuechly was cleared by an independent neuroconsultant as the final step in the NFL’s protocol.
Kuechly was a full participant in practice this week, and all signs point to him returning against the Buccaneers.
“He’s practiced all three days full practice,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Friday.
Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil is out Sunday after aggravating a neck injury last week at Chicago. Kalil was in for only 15 snaps against the Bears and has played only two games this year.
But Rivera said there’s been little talk of putting Kalil on injured reserve, adding that his status is week to week.
Kuechly has missed 10 games over the past three seasons due to concussions. But he was able to get back on the practice field more quickly after his most recent concussion, which occurred during an Oct. 12 loss against Philadelphia.
Kuechly made the trip to Chicago last week, where David Mayo started in his place.
He’s officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s game, along with four other players – kicker Graham Gano (knee/sickness), tight end Ed Dickson (ankle), fullback Alex Armah (hamstring) and safety Kurt Coleman (knee).
Coleman was a game-time decision last week before ultimately missing his third game with a sprained knee. Rivera expects him to play.
“He practiced well last week. But this week you could see him moving around with more confidence,” Rivera said. “So everything’s pointing towards he’ll be ready to roll on Sunday.”
Rivera also sounded confident that Gano will be ready.
Gano, already dealing with a knee injury in his kicking leg, came down with a flu-like illness Thursday night and missed Friday’s practice.
Former Tampa Bay kicker Roberto Aguayo joined the Panthers’ practice squad this week and received some work Friday – “just in case,” Rivera said.
Rivera said if Gano isn’t feeling well Saturday, Aguayo would travel to Tampa “as an insurance policy.”