CHARLOTTE – It was a true gut punch.
You could hear it in Gerald McCoy's voice when he talked about fellow defensive lineman Kawann Short being placed on injured reserve with a season-ending shoulder injury.
"It was rough for me, man," McCoy said. "We talked last night and it was tough for me to deal with because he was a huge part of why I came here...
"There is no replacing a guy like that. But we've got tons of guys here who can play."
McCoy and Short became fast friends after the former Buccaneer signed with Carolina this offseason. But, despite the disappointment, the show must go on.
Short, who was voted a team captain for the first time this season, knows that as well as anyone.
"The things we talked about – nothing changes," McCoy said. "The destination don't change just because you've got to make a pit stop. We've still got things to do. Great things are still going to happen. We wish him the best. He'll be loving on his teammates and helping us out like he always does."
McCoy, who has worn the captain's patch as few times this season with the Panthers rotating the final spot, is certainly someone who can help fill that void. So too can veteran edge rusher Bruce Irvin, who is back in action after missing the first three games with a hamstring injury.
"I think Gerald McCoy has done a nice job," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He's responded very well in the last two games. You can see his veteran leadership step up, and that's one of the fortunate things about having a guy like that in the locker room. He steps up into that role and he's done a nice job with it.
"A guy that's not a flashy guy and he does it his own way is Bruce Irvin. He's helped that group of young rushers to understand what it takes. Bruce is a tough, physical player and a lot of these young guys see that. They see how he does things, too, how much of a pro he is. We're fortunate to have those kind of veteran guys that are helping to offset the loss of KK."
And this also opens the door for former first-round pick Vernon Butler, who came up with an enormous strip-sack in the win over Houston last Sunday.
Before the season, Rivera called it "go time" for the Louisiana Tech product who has struggled to make an impact during his first four seasons.
In Butler, McCoy sees a player who has all the tools to succeed in a larger role.
"Vern is very talented. I don't know if Vern even realizes how talented he is," McCoy said. "What Vern doesn't realize is how athletic he is. He can do things that guys his size aren't supposed to be able to do. Once he realizes that and puts it all together, he's going to really be a problem. You got a glimpse of it on Sunday. He flashes all the time. With him having a bigger role now, I think it's going to start to show."
The Panthers, despite not having Short in the lineup, have been on a roll lately. Carolina has recorded 14 sacks over the last weeks and their 18 total sacks is tied for the top mark in the NFL.
But it's only the beginning.
"People make a big deal out of all these sacks we're getting, but you guys have no idea how much better we can be," McCoy said. "What our coach always says is we left meat on the bone, and we left a lot. We got to be better this week."