CHARLOTTE – The leg injury wide receiver Damiere Byrd suffered during Sunday’s victory over the Buccaneers will end his season. The Panthers place him on injured reserve Tuesday afternoon.
Byrd went down in pain after returning the kickoff to start the second half to the 20-yard line, and he was later carted to the locker room. Late in the second quarter, it was Byrd who returned a kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown – a franchise record.
“One of those freak things as far as the tackle was concerned,” head coach Ron Rivera said.
This is the second time Byrd has been placed on IR. An arm injury suffered against the Patriots in Week 4 forced him to miss the next seven games, but the Panthers activated him in Week 13.
In the Week 15 win over Green Bay, Byrd recorded the first two touchdown catches of his career. Combine that performance with his spectacular kick return against Tampa Bay, and it’s clear Byrd was emerging as an explosive weapon.
“He wants to be part of it and he’s done a great job. He’s earned it. That’s the most disappointing part,” Rivera said. “Here’s a young man who does everything the right way, and unfortunately this happens.”
Byrd’s speed will be dearly missed, especially since he’s joining rookie speedster Curtis Samuel on IR.
But the playoff-bound Panthers must make do with what they’ve got, and Rivera expressed confidence in those options. He also added that wide receiver Russell Shepard, who missed the Bucs game with a shoulder injury, will be back in action this week.
“A little bit of a shot to what we’re trying to do, but at the same time, we have guys that will come in and fill that role,” Rivera said. “It’s tough, but Kaelin Clay stepped up and did some really good things for us. (Brenton) Bersin has been very consistent. Plus, we’ll get Shep back this week. Mose Frazier (recently added from the practice squad) is a guy we’ve liked since training camp ,and he got his opportunity.”
As for the impact on special teams, Rivera mentioned that rookie Christian McCaffrey could be called upon to return kicks in Byrd’s absence. McCaffrey has only returned three kicks this season, all against the Patriots in Week 4.
Clay and running back Fozzy Whittaker are others expected to fill in for kick returns.
“The one thing I’ve been trying to avoid is having to put Christian back there. I think limiting his role on special teams has helped him,” Rivera said. “Maybe in certain spots or situations we may put him back there.”