The Carolina Panthers are getting their defensive leader back – two of them, actually.
Pro Bowl middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and starting safety Kurt Coleman are listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. But Panthers coach Ron Rivera said both would play assuming they pass the final test in the concussion protocol.
The same goes for rookie cornerback Daryl Worley, who entered the protocol last week during the loss at Seattle.
“They’ve got to see the doctor (Friday) afternoon and then one last look-see on Saturday and Sunday,” Rivera said Friday. “They’re just going through the steps of the protocol. ... If they proceed accordingly, then hopefully everything is fine. You always keep your fingers crossed.”
Kuechly has missed two games since sustaining a scary-looking concussion Nov. 17 against New Orleans. Kuechly was sobbing and was having trouble catching his breath as he was carted from the field in the fourth quarter against the Saints.
Coleman sat out last week’s game at Seattle after experiencing post-concussion symptoms following the loss at Oakland.
Rivera was fired up about the prospect of having Kuechly and Coleman back in the defensive huddle. Kuechly, Coleman and Worley all were full participation Friday after being limited earlier in the week.
“What they’ve done in practice has been really kind of cool,” Rivera said. “So I’m pretty excited about that.”
Defensive end Charles Johnson (hamstring) will miss his first game this season, although Rivera is optimistic edge rusher Mario Addison will play.
Addison, the team leader with 6.5 sacks, missed the two-game West Coast trip with a foot injury. He’s listed as questionable, but Rivera said Addison looked good running around Friday.
Right tackle Daryl Williams (high ankle sprain) will miss his second consecutive game, and special teams regular David Mayo (concussion) is also out.
But the expected return of Kuechly is welcome news for a defense that gave up 40 points and 534 yards to the Seahawks.
“Any time you’ve got your leader out there,” said Rivera, smiling, “it’s a doggone good thing.”