Unlucky 13: Panthers could have another new lineup
The first player went down less than 30 minutes into the opening practice of training camp. And the injuries haven't stopped for the Panthers.
Defensive end Tyler Brayton, one of only five defensive players to start every game this season, sat out practice Wednesday after sustaining a concussion. If he doesn't play Sunday at New England, Carolina will trot out its 13th different starting defensive lineup in 13 games.
``Every time we look in our D-line room, it's like we've got a revolving chair over there. It's pretty funny,'' defensive tackle Damione Lewis said. ``Each year it's a certain team that goes through this. This year it just happened to bite us.''
A year ago the Panthers were a model of consistency and good fortune in their 12-4 season. The same 11 players started on defense for the first 14 games before defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu hurt his ankle and missed the last two weeks of the regular season.
But when Kemoeatu fell in a heap with a ruptured Achilles' tendon while running by himself in one of the first drills of camp, it was only the beginning of a rash of debilitating injuries that have played a part in Carolina's disappointing 5-7 season.
``A couple of our tackles weren't even at camp with us,'' coach John Fox said. ``I'm still getting their names down.''
Perhaps the most surprising element of Carolina's plight is that the defense is not the team's biggest concern. The offense, also hit hard by injuries, has managed one touchdown in two games and has been plagued by turnovers.
The defense has allowed only one touchdown in the last two weeks and Carolina ranks sixth in the league in pass defense after intercepting Tampa Bay rookie Josh Freeman five times Sunday.
``Young guys have been called on,'' Fox said. ``James Anderson - who's really our third-team (weakside) linebacker - I think has played really well over the last couple of weeks.''
Anderson is starting because Thomas Davis and his backup, Landon Johnson, are both on injured reserve. But that's nothing like the trouble at defensive tackle.
The Panthers traded a sixth-round draft pick to Cleveland for Louis Leonard, who was expected to fill in for Kemoeatu. But Leonard broke his ankle and was placed on injured reserve on Sept. 22.
The Panthers later sent a fifth-round pick to Kansas City for tackle Tank Tyler. He, too, is on injured reserve with a knee injury.
``It's like a carousel around here,'' safety Chris Harris said.
There's more. Defensive end Julius Peppers has been limited by a broken hand. Strongside linebacker Na'il Diggs didn't practice Wednesday after aggravating an old rib injury against the Buccaneers on Sunday.
Harris missed the first three games and fellow safety Charles Godfrey was out a month. Backups have been hurt, too, limiting much of the scheme work on defense.
``You're retraining people,'' Fox said. ``If you're changing people every week, it becomes a little bit tougher.''
The latest starting defensive tackle, Hollis Thomas, was signed on Oct. 1. Derek Landri, Jordan Senn and Quinton Culberson, listed as top backups on Carolina's depth chart, have been with the team a combined 28 days.
``This is my fifth year and I've never quite had the injury bug hit as hard as it hit us this season,'' Harris said. ``It's just one of those things you've got to live with and move on.''
Brayton, who banged his head in Sunday's win, could be the latest to miss a game. His backup, Charles Johnson, returned to practice Wednesday after missing the past three games with a strained chest muscle.
Lewis, middle linebacker Jon Beason, and cornerbacks Richard Marshall and Chris Gamble are the only other defensive players to start every game.
``The guys have kept hammering even with a lot of turnover,'' Fox said. ``Sometimes that doesn't bode well with a defense, but they've continued fighting and done a good job.''