CHARLOTTE – Just a week removed from one of the best pass-rushing performances in franchise history, the defensive front that produced six sacks of eight total sacks against Arizona is getting a boost.
Head coach Ron Rivera announced on Thursday that defensive end Bruce Irvin will make his Panthers debut on Sunday against the Texans. Irvin missed the first three games of the season after suffering a hamstring injury during preseason practice.
"Having watched him today in practice, I feel very comfortable with having him out there," Rivera said. "He'll play on Sunday, so pretty excited about that. He had a good day and it was a lot of fun to watch, it really was."
Last week against the Cardinals, the Panthers were without longtime defensive tackle Kawann Short, who was sidelined with a shoulder injury. As a result, rookies along the defensive front, like edge rushers Brian Burns and Christian Miller, stepped into the spotlight, as well as veteran defensive end Mario Addison. But as impressive as the young guys have been, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said there's just something different about lining up next to an eight-year veteran.
"He's a vet," McCoy said of Irvin. "His mind, just overall, his experience. The young guys have been doing great, but it'll be great to have another vet out there that's put in his time in the league. It'll help out a lot, big time."
It's not just the big guys up front who are ready to have Irvin back. Linebacker Luke Kuechly said he's excited to see the veteran return.
"Bruce has been waiting to come back, he's worked real hard to get back," Kuechly said. "When you bring a guy like that in who's got great energy, I think guys are excited to have him back. He brings energy, brings some speed off the edge. He's a real physical player and I think he's going to do a really good job for us."
Rivera said he expects the unit to take a few plays to get used to having a new player in the mix, but once the defense does adjust, Irvin's presence will benefit everyone.
"I think Bruce's repertoire as a pass rusher is very diverse," Rivera said. "He can work inside, he can work outside, so I just think that he gives you flexibility. I think his game will fit with the guys that he's out there with."
Defensive coordinator Eric Washington agrees. And he's particularly excited to see the passion Irvin is known for displaying.
"Bruce is an edgy player, and that's never a bad thing for a defensive player," Washington said. "He just kind of brings that edge, that attitude."
"He's emotional, he wears everything on his sleeve, he talks to the opponent, he talks to his teammates, you just know he's there. Plus, he just backs it up. He's a person who's going to walk it and he's going to talk it."