CHARLOTTE – The Panthers, off to a 4-0 start thanks in no small part to the impressive play of their linebackers and encouraging contributions from their wide receivers, could be stronger still in both areas when they begin preparations for their Week 6 trip to Seattle.
Head coach Ron Rivera said Monday that linebacker Luke Kuechly could be cleared from the NFL's concussion protocol later this week and that wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery could return to practice after the upcoming bye weekend.
"Luke is still in the protocol, but hopefully in the next couple of days they'll be able to get that thing taken care of," Rivera said. "We're pretty optimistic."
Rivera confirmed that Kuechly, out since suffering a concussion late in the first half of the season opener, previously had seen an independent neurologist – the final hurdle in the protocol – but didn't gain clearance. Rivera said Kuechly would try again this week.
"Everything that he had to do, he did, but when he met with the independent, the independent didn't feel comfortable with it. That's my understanding of what happened," Rivera said.
Cotchery, a key contributor in the season opener who suffered a high ankle sprain that limited him in Week 2 and sidelined him the last two games, could try to practice next Tuesday according to Rivera.
"I'll be here, just trying to push it and see how it responds," Cotchery said. "We'll go from there."
Rivera believes that offensive tackle Daryl Williams, out since the season opener with a knee sprain, might need a little more time. At this point, it sounds like Williams likely will become a consideration after the Seattle game rather than before it, but the rookie is holding out hope.
"That's what I'm hoping for, but I even asked the trainers and they don't know," Williams said. "It's a day-to-day process. It depends on how better I am come next week."
The Panthers sustained just one notable injury in Sunday's victory at Tampa Bay. Recently acquired defensive end Jared Allen suffered a pinched nerve in his lower back early on but played through it for much of the game.
"The only thing that came up – and I didn't catch it until later in the fourth quarter – was Jared having that pinched nerve," Rivera said. "He was doing some good things out there, but it affected him.
"They're just checking that out, and he's got two weeks to get ready."
View the top photos by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez from Carolina's game against Tampa Bay.