Dayton Fliers: Injuries test depth, resolve

Even though John Feinstein's "Next Man Up" chronicle of the 2004 Baltimore Ravens is a bit dated, it's still a worthwhile read for anyone who enjoys the NFL and wants to know more about the behind-the-scenes workings of a team.

Unfortunately, its title is also becoming a way to understand what the Carolina Panthers are experiencing this season. Two games into the 2011 schedule, the Panthers have 10 players on injured reserve, including five who were projected starters.

For the black and blue Panthers, the number 10 is anything but perfect.

However, it reflects two unwritten truths of life in the NFL. First, in the NFL version of Murphy's Law, injuries happen in clusters and usually come at the same position. Secondly, no matter what, there's always a next man up.

So far this year for the Panthers, linebacker and guard have been the places to avoid.

First, ironman Jon Beason's Achilles injury proved to be a true Achilles' heel, as a 65-game starting streak came to abrupt halt when Beason turned to chase former Panthers tight end Jeff King at Arizona in Week 1.  Next, three was anything but a charm for Thomas Davis, whose season was ended in Week 2 with his third torn ACL in less than two years.

Befitting a player of his versatility, the next man up for Beason is actually several men - Dan Connor in run situations and Omar Gaither on passing downs. For Davis, it is Jason Williams, who is coming back from a knee injury suffered late last season.

Connor, Gaither, and Williams will be the first to say they are not Beason and Davis. Beason is coming off three straight Pro Bowls and Davis was punching his ticket to his first when he was injured two years ago at New Orleans.

Beason and Davis are dynamic players in the heart of the defense. Still, the Panthers will field 11 on defense each Sunday. It's just that two of their now-injured stars will not be among them.

On offense, right guard has also been the wrong place to be.  Last year's starter, Geoff Schwartz, never made it to the practice field in Spartanburg due to a hip condition. His replacement, Garry Williams, was lost with a broken leg in the preseason finale versus Pittsburgh.

Next up was a familiar face in Geoff Hangartner, who was not even with the Panthers when the preseason concluded. He was signed before the first game and started at Arizona opening week.

Head coach Ron Rivera knows the opposition will try to exploit the Panthers' weaknesses each Sunday. He will not lament the losses of Beason, Davis, Schwartz or Williams because that's the way of the NFL.

Sometimes injuries work in your favor when they impact an opponent. When they hit you as they have the Panthers, it's not so good. Either way, it is the turn of the "next man up."

Director of Communications Charlie Dayton has worked 34 years in the NFL. Before joining the Panthers in 1994, he was VP of Communications for the Washington Redskins. Dayton has worked on the NFL media staff for 25 Super Bowls, is a past winner of the Horrigan Award and was recently recognized with the National Association of Black Journalists Merit Award.

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