Injuries leave the Panthers with few options
The man who has been blamed for starting Carolina's injury curse had to share time with the latest unknown fill-in in the Panthers' locker room on Wednesday.
As Maake Kemoeatu made a rare appearance around the team while riding around with his right leg bent on the back of a specially made scooter, reporters rushed from him to talk to Geoff Schwartz, Carolina's newest starting offensive lineman.
Schwartz's first NFL start will come against mighty Minnesota on Sunday and involve blocking for inexperienced quarterback Matt Moore. The defense, meanwhile, could have its 14th different lineup in 14 games with cornerback Richard Marshall nursing a sore right ankle.
While falling from 12-4 in 2008 to 5-8 this season is no reason to smile, Carolina's injury woes have taken on almost comical tone with 10 players on season-ending injured reserve.
``For whatever reason, it seems like every other year we get whacked, and this has been one of those years,'' coach John Fox said. ``Nobody comes and rescues you. Nobody wants to hear about it. You've just got to plug in the next guy and keep swinging the sword.''
The Panthers will face the Vikings (11-2), Giants (7-6) and Saints (13-0) to close the season with a lineup that might make an old XFL team blush.
Moore will almost certainly make his third straight start with Jake Delhomme (broken finger) missing practice again Wednesday. Running back Jonathan Stewart (toe) sat out, too, but hopes to play.
Receiver Muhsin Muhammad (knee) is banged up and missed Wednesday's workout, while Schwartz is expected to start against Minnesota at right tackle with Jeff Otah going on injured reserve Tuesday with torn cartilage in his left knee.
The Panthers long ago lost their best offensive lineman, left tackle Jordan Gross (broken leg), their speedy weakside linebacker, Thomas Davis (knee), and his backup, Landon Johnson (knee), to season-ending injuries.
And it all started when Kemoeatu, Carolina's top run-stuffer, tore his right Achilles' tendon less than 30 minutes into the first practice of training camp. The two guys Carolina traded for to replace him - Louis Leonard and Tank Tyler - have since been put on injured reserve, too.
And Moore is starting because backup QB Josh McCown was lost for the season in Week 1.
``They said I was the curse of the injuries,'' said Kemoeatu, who has had trouble with skin around his Achilles' in his rehab and could have a second skin graft surgery on Friday. ``I was like, 'Oh, that's a bad way to look at it.'
``But right after me three other guys went down. That's the way things go in the world of football. People do get hurt and other guys step up.''
The 6-foot-6, 332-pound Schwartz is the latest to get the call. Carolina's seventh-round pick in 2008, he spent all of his rookie season on the practice squad. He's played mostly on special teams this season, but now will replace the mammoth Otah just in time to face Jared Allen and Minnesota's fierce pass rush.
``I guess you could say he got me to the NFL,'' said Stewart, Schwartz's college teammate at Oregon. ``He's got great feet, that's one of the reasons I think they drafted him. Big guy, good feet. I think he's going to do well this week. He did well in college while I was in the backfield with him.''
Schwartz will be blocking for a former rival. Moore went to Oregon State, but will now be hoping Schwartz protects him as he looks to improve on mediocre performances the last two weeks in place of Delhomme.
``Third week in a row now, so I'm feeling good and trying to get some things going Sunday,'' Moore said.
Trouble is, Carolina has few receiving options after Steve Smith and has scored two touchdowns in the last three games. And with all the injuries elsewhere, they have a severe talent shortage on both sides of the ball in their matchup with the Vikings.
Carolina could face Brett Favre without Marshall, one of only four defensive players to start every game. Marshall was out of his walking boot on Wednesday, but wasn't able to practice.
It's been that kind of season.
``We'll do the things we think we can do with the people we have and do it,'' Fox said, ``to the best of our ability.''