The Carolina Panthers feature one of the best linebacker units in the entire NFL. With the veteran Thomas Davis manning the weak side, star Luke Kuechly in the middle and now first round rookie Shaq Thompson manning the strong side.
But for the team’s week seven matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles, they’ll be without their rookie as Thompson will miss this game due to a sprained MCL.
Thompson suffered the injury on a fourth quarter kickoff in last week’s win in Seattle when he ran downfield and made the tackle on the play but hit his knee on the returner’s helmet in the process, knocking him out for the rest of that game and at least one more week.
In Head Coach Ron Rivera’s press conference yesterday, he’s said that there was not yet a timetable for Thompson’s return and that the team was dealing with the injury day by day. For now though, the young linebacker will be officially out for the Sunday night matchup.
Thompson has had himself a solid year thus far and has 20 total tackles on the year and one sack. He has been an active presence for the Panthers’ defense and has given them another quick and versatile linebacker who can make the key plays.
With Thompson out, the team will look to replace his productivity and fortunately for them, they have quite an impressive backup option to turn to.
AJ Klein is the primary backup for all three linebacker positions and has already shown this season how valuable of an asset he is.
When Kuechly was out dealing with a concussion, Klein stepped into the middle of the defense and played exceptionally well leaving the team with little to no drop off in production. Klein will likely be the leading candidate to take over the strong side role in Thompson’s absence and has experience playing there in his previous years in Carolina with multiple starts at the position.
Klein dealt with an injury issue of his own the last two weeks after reporting concussion-like symptoms following the Panthers’ week four game with Tampa Bay. He has been in the concussion protocol the last two weeks and today was cleared to play by the independent doctor and is officially listed as probable for the matchup with the Eagles.
Other linebackers on the roster like fifth round rookie David Mayo and third year player Ben Jacobs could also see more snaps if the team decides to limit Klein. Both players have served primarily on special teams where they have been effective.
The Panthers coaching will likely be inclined to play with more two-linebacker sets than before now with Thompson out, leaving Kuechly and Davis in and bringing in a nickel cornerback or another safety. The team utilizes this kind of formation frequently and against an up-tempo offense like Philadelphia’s, this may be the best course of action.
Thompson’s injury certainly hurts Carolina, but the rest of the defense looks more than ready to fill the void.