The Carolina Panthers received some good news on the injury front Wednesday when Pro Bowl middle linebacker Luke Kuechly ran out in full pads for practice.
Kuechly is in the penultimate step in the concussion protocol: He’ll need to be cleared by the team doctor and an independent neurologist before he can play Sunday at Tampa Bay.
But for a player who has sustained three concussions in a 26-month span, getting back on the practice field is a positive sign.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera sounded confident Kuechly would play this weekend. Rivera said he liked the energy Kuechly and safety Kurt Coleman, who’s missed three weeks with a sprained knee, brought to the defensive group.
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Kuechly sat out last week’s game at Chicago and has missed 10 games because of concussions over the past three seasons. He was listed as a full participant Wednesday.
Rookie running back Christian McCaffrey said it was great having Kuechly back.
“It’s always good seeing him on the field,” McCaffrey said. “Being able to compete against him is really fun and working against probably the best defender in the league, in my opinion.”
Meanwhile, right guard Trai Turner also practiced Wednesday after leaving the Bears game in the second half with a left knee injury. Turner said an MRI exam on his knee “came back fine,” and he was just dealing with a “little aches and pain.”
Turner also participated fully and said he expects to play against the Bucs.
Center Ryan Kalil was among three starters who did not participate, along with defensive end Julius Peppers (rest) and tight end Ed Dickson, who said there’s no way he’d miss Sunday’s game despite twisting his ankle against the Bears.
Kalil, a five-time Pro Bowler, played three series at Chicago before aggravating a neck injury that sidelined him the previous five games. Kalil, who is hoping to avoid going on injured reserve, worked on the side during the portion of the practice open to the media.