Scott Fowler

6 Carolina Panthers captains, 6 injury stories: The NFL’s cruel toll

There is no doubt of the NFL’s inherent brutality.

Some of the most well-conditioned athletes in the world get sidelined for the season every single week, mostly when they bash into other well-conditioned athletes in the choreographed car crashes that signify almost every NFL play.

The league seems to lose at least one star every week. It was Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers (broken collarbone) on Sunday. The week before it was J.J. Watt and Odell Beckham.

Carolina didn’t even play on Sunday but still came out ahead. Nobody else on the Panthers got hurt and Atlanta got upset by Miami, which moved the Panthers (4-2) back into the NFC South lead.

But injuries remain a fact of life in every NFL locker room. Just look at the six Carolina Panthers captains. Those six men represent the best of the Panthers – they are a half-dozen of their best and most durable players, as well as their most vocal leaders.

Four of those captains have missed significant time already this season with serious injuries and might be out Sunday at Chicago, too.

The other two are still playing – but they aren’t 100 percent, either.

It’s no wonder that many parents are leery of letting their sons play football these days. My three boys have always played football in the backyard, but it’s always two-hand touch. A couple of our sons have played flag football in various leagues. But their small high school doesn’t even offer football as a sport, and honestly I’m glad of that.

Internally, I struggle with the classic football conundrum.

I love watching the sport. I love writing about it. But the toll it takes on the health of those who play it cannot be ignored. It is a vicious price that leaves absolutely no one unscathed.

As for those six Panthers captains, here is the toll that football has exacted on their bodies so far this season. In alphabetical order:

Kurt Coleman. The free safety sprained the medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his left knee against New England Oct. 1. He has missed two games already and might miss one to two more before returning most likely in early November. Coleman has been a very durable player. If he misses another game this season, it will be the first time in his eight-year career that he will miss more than two games in a year.

Thomas Davis. Davis had to call a timeout in Carolina’s Sept. 24 game against New Orleans and exit the field with a rib injury. He still hasn’t missed a start, but the rib injury has obviously limited his effectiveness and the Panthers are being careful with their 34-year-old linebacker.

Normally on the field for every defensive play, the Panthers sat Davis out for nearly half the defensive snaps for the next two games after New Orleans. Davis played 89 percent of the snaps against Philadelphia last week, however – which was necessary in part because Luke Kuechly got hurt.

Ryan Kalil. The Panthers’ Pro Bowl center has missed five of Carolina’s six games with a neck injury. The injury was originally described as a crick in the neck that flared up before the Week 2 Buffalo game. Kalil, 32, said recently: “It was a little more than that.” He did not get into more specifics but is hopeful of playing again soon.

Luke Kuechly. Kuechly is in the concussion protocol for the third time in the past three years after banging the left side of his head on a Philadelphia offensive lineman in the second quarter Thursday of Carolina’s 28-23 loss.

There is some question as to whether Kuechly actually sustained a concussion this time around or if he just showed enough signs of possibly having one that the Panthers pulled him from the entire second half of the Eagles’ game as a precaution.

Whether he will play Sunday at Chicago is uncertain. Kuechly, who has missed nine games over the past two NFL seasons because of concussion-related issues, has clearly been the Panthers’ best defensive player this season.

Cam Newton. The quarterback looked rusty early in the season, but he has been the best thing about Carolina’s offense the past three weeks. Of the Panthers’ six captains, Newton is the only one who has not missed a significant number of snaps in 2017.

Newton had offseason throwing-shoulder surgery in late March (to repair his partially torn rotator cuff), and that hampered his training camp progress. He has also been dealing with an ankle issue this season since Week 2. The Panthers have regularly limited his throws in practice, but Newton’s arm has looked plenty strong in the past few games.

Greg Olsen. The Panthers’ Pro Bowl tight end had caught 1,000 yards worth of passes for an NFL-record three consecutive seasons, but he has no chance at a fourth straight this season since breaking a bone in his right foot in a Week 2 win over Buffalo. It was a non-contact injury.

Olsen had surgery Sept. 18. He’s on the injured reserve list now but is expected back to practice in early November. Due to his IR status, the first game he is eligible to play is against the New York Jets on Nov. 26. So at minimum, Olsen will miss eight games in 2017 after not missing a single contest for Carolina from 2011-16.

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