Notebook: Defensive reinforcements could be on the way

Shaq Thompson

CHARLOTTE — There could be some good news on the horizon for the Panthers defense.

Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said Monday that he was "hopeful" that linebacker Shaq Thompson, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, and safety Juston Burris could return to the lineup this week.

That would represent a considerable boost in any situation, but with a higher burden on the defense at the moment, any help is welcome.

"If they can go, it will really help us," Rhule said of those three.

Thompson has been out since suffering a foot injury and playing through it in Dallas in Week 4. He was with the team in New York Sunday and took part in pre-game warmups.

"You could say he's the heart of this defense," defensive tackle DaQuan Jones said of Thompson.

Gilmore was eligible to be activated Sunday from the physically unable to perform list, but didn't make the trip. He had practiced for three days since he suffered a quad injury last December, so the decision was made to give him more time.

Burris went on IR in Week 4 also, taking another reliable veteran off the field.

Rhule pointed to some plays being made by backups at different points (such as safety Sam Franklin Jr.'s goal-line stop), and his hope that the experience some younger players were getting now would help in the long term.

But it's equally clear how much they miss Thompson in the middle, and how much a former NFL defensive player of the year such as Gilmore would help.

— The Panthers are about to get another new look on the offensive line this week, after using five different starting combinations in the first seven games.

"We have to figure some things out up front on the offensive line with some injuries," he said.

Rhule said that right guard John Miller suffered a "pretty bad ankle sprain," and that he wasn't likely to play this week. Miller missed the opener while on the COVID-19 list, but has otherwise started every game. Rhule said a three-week stint on IR was not anything he could rule out, though he hadn't talked to the medical staff when he met with reporters Monday.

He also said he expected veteran left tackle Cameron Erving to return this week, after missing the trip to New York with an illness.

Rhule was encouraged by the play of left guard Michael Jordan, who got his first start Sunday after replacing Dennis Daley early in the Vikings game.

"He plays the game, we talk about the brand, he's the brand," Rhule said of Jordan. "He's tough; he's physical, he tries to set edges, tries to attack and win on their side of the line of scrimmage. He plays hard. He's a guy I think that's going to be a really good offensive lineman for us for a while."

The reviews were less enthusiastic about rookie Brady Christensen, who started at left tackle in Erving's place.

"I think Brady, to be quite honest, Brady struggled," Rhule said. "He was a late addition to the starting lineup, didn't get all the reps on Wednesday and Thursday. Got some but not all and had to play a lot. It was not what we needed it to be."

— There could be some change coming at punter, after the team struggled with field position all day. Ryan Winslow averaged 36.9 yards on seven punts.

"We have to punt the ball better," Rhule said. "What exactly that means? We'll see over the next couple of days."

Joseph Charlton, who is on IR with a back injury, is at least a week away from being eligible to return. The Panthers have worked out two other punters in the last two weeks.

View all of the best photos from pre-game, in-game and post-game from Carolina's game against New York.

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