CHARLOTTE – As the third linebacker in a defense that has featured just two linebackers at times this season, A.J. Klein has done his share of watching from the sideline.
That took on a whole new meaning last week when an ankle injury sidelined Klein for the entire game, but he's determined to return to his role – whatever it entails – this week when the Panthers travel to Atlanta to battle the Falcons for the NFC South title.
"There's no way I'm going to miss this week. I'm going to do everything in my power to get out there," Klein said. "Especially this game with the circumstances, I definitely want to be a part of it."
With A.J. sidelined versus the Cleveland Browns, "A.G." filled in admirably. Rookie Adarius Glanton started in his stead. Having played just 20 defensive snaps in eight games since being promoted from the practice squad, the undrafted rookie from Florida Atlantic played 27 snaps against the Browns and finished second on the team with six tackles.
"It was fun to get out there with the ones and get to fly around and hit some people," Glanton said. "I played OK. I could have done some things better, and I'm practicing toward getting some things better this week. But this is a good starting point."
Added Klein: "He did well. He was where he was supposed to be and made some plays. If worse came to worse or something were to happen again, I think A.G. would do a good job again. But I definitely plan on getting healthy and getting back out there."
Glanton played 57 percent of the defensive snaps alongside linebacking staples Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, a percentage similar to what Klein played the week before against Tampa Bay despite having his ankle rolled up on in a pile in the first quarter.
Versus the Buccaneers, Klein played 53 percent of the snaps – his highest percentage since Week 4 – and recorded five tackles.
"I feel like the past few games I've gotten a good amount of reps," said Klein, the Panthers' fifth-round draft choice in 2013 from Iowa State. "It's all based on scheme and what teams do to us. The best thing about it is that I get my reps on defense, but I'm also in all four phases of special teams, so I'm always seeing action. I never get cold."
Klein had hoped to keep things going against the Browns, but between the ankle injury and a knee injury he suffered the week before, he just wasn't quite right. However, Klein was close enough last week that he's confident he'll be back in the mix this week when Carolina needs all hands on deck.
"It was hard last week. I tested my leg pregame, and it just didn't feel right," Klein said. "I feel good. My number-one priority obviously is to get healthy so I can get back on the field. From last week, I've seen progress every day. I'm definitely anxious to get back out there."