The Panthers feel like they’re four-deep for their three-linebacker defense, but they may start the fifth or sixth guy anyway.
According to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer, middle linebacker Jon Beason (shoulder, knee) was held out of practice for a second straight day.
But while first-round pick and weakside starter Luke Kuechly is viewed as the middle linebacker of the future, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said reserve Jason Phillips would start in Beason’s place if he can’t go in Atlanta Sunday.
Rivera said he didn’t want to move Kuechly inside unless Beason’s absence was going to be a longer one.
While that indicates Beason’s problem isn’t serious, it also speaks to the reality of his condition. A year removed from a torn Achilles, Beason’s still working to get to 100 percent, and may not complete that journey this season (as evidenced by the two-years-until-he’s-right timeline of Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans).
Along with Thomas Davis, whose thrice-torn-ACL knee is fine but has battled a calf and hamstring issues since camp, the Panthers have a pair of talented linebackers who aren’t quite full-timers. Davis has been used mostly on third downs, while they hold their breath and see if he holds together.
So the choice is, apparently, to leave Kuechly in the spot he’s worked at all summer, in hopes of him playing a more comfortable and fluid game.