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Carolina Panthers

Notebook: Ejiro Evero talks defensive depth amid injuries 

Ejiro Evero

CHARLOTTE – Ejiro Evero made the point that he has gone through a similar injury situation to the one he's dealing with at Carolina as a defensive coordinator, saying it reminds him of last season in Denver.

Evero said he knows how it goes with injuries in the NFL, and he has faith in the depth of his defensive roster.

"We're not going to make any excuses," Evero said. "We have more than what we need to play well. We've got a lot of good young players. We've got really good depth. The coaches have done a great job of not just coaching the starters but really pouring into the entire depth of the roster. And I think that's starting to show.

"So that's what we've got to do. You can't control those things, and nobody's going to care. So we've just got to make it work."

Head coach Frank Reich said Tuesday that star outside linebacker Brian Burns and starting cornerback CJ Henderson, both in concussion protocol, are not expected to play in Thursday night's game against the Bears. 

So on a short week and with a short list of available pass rushers, Evero has placed faith in a younger group, including rookie DJ Johnson, newer signee Luiji Vilain, and second-year Amaré Barno. Justin Houston and Yetur Gross-Matos are on injured reserve, and Marquis Haynes Sr.'s 21-day window to return to practice from injured reserve just opened Monday. 

"We think a lot of all these guys," Evero said of his young group of outside linebackers. "They've been preparing for this moment, and we expect them to perform well when they get in there." 

Evero said he's learned to prepare his players from the top to the bottom of the roster in cases like these. Nurturing the mindset with practice squad players that they could play at any second is a part of it.

"That's just the nature of it," Evero said. "At any moment, anybody has to play."

– With so many players on injured reserve, Reich said he and general manager Scott Fitterer have started to discuss the math of getting players back on the roster this season.

The league allows just eight players to be reactivated from the list, meaning Reich and Fitterer have begun considering who, how, and when they will manage that part of the roster.

"It's a jigsaw puzzle week to week," Reich said. "With all the guys on IR, and the fact that you only get eight guys off, Scott and I have been sitting down and talking about what that looks like, how are we going to allocate those eight moves, understanding there's still a lot of football to play (and) other guys could get hurt that need to come off. So a little bit of a jigsaw puzzle.

"What I find is that, as you work through the week, it just has a way of working itself out. Sometimes, you've got to make some tough decisions. But I think Scott and his team do a good job. I think our coaches do a good job communicating what our needs are and how we're going to adapt, and how Chris Tabor is going to adjust as a special teams thing. 

"At this time of the year, for every team, we have multiple meetings every day talking about the moving parts to get it right."

– Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown discussed the running back rotation following Miles Sanders' increased production against Indianapolis.

Sanders had one of his best outings as a Panther as he's working back from a tough start to the season and a nagging hamstring injury.

"Starting to do a really good job of trying to keep those guys involved as much as possible from a rotation standpoint and keep them fresh," Brown said. "As we've mentioned before, what those guys do well, skill-set wise, (to) put them in a spot to give them an opportunity to be able to showcase it on game day.

"But (Sanders') overall demeanor and approach has been awesome. I'm sure he was obviously frustrated at some point, which I think is natural if you've ever been in that position before, even outside of the football world, where things aren't going the way you expect them to. But he's been a true pro in many ways."

Brown said they are working through ways to get Sanders, Chuba Hubbard (the Panthers' leading running back through the first half of the season), and Raheem Blackshear balanced in the run game.

– Tight end Jordan Matthews signed to the Panthers' 53-man roster Tuesday from their practice squad. The 31-year-old wide receiver, who switched to tight end a few years ago, has experience in the league and said he was excited for the opportunity to play with Reich again, as the two were together in Philadelphia in 2016 when Reich was the offensive coordinator.

"When we were together (in Philadelphia), he would always drop gems," Matthews said. "He would always figure out ways to get the offense to understand the spirit behind football. These aren't just plays that we're putting up there that we're running; we're trying to understand the why and what it truly means to be able to play this game. At the head coach level, he gets to expand that much more. … 

"It's been awesome to be around him in this capacity. To have this opportunity to be under him – I want to do everything possible to help this team win because I know Frank is the man for the job. He's just an amazing leader and can't ask to play for a better man."

– New linebacker Blake Martinez, who retired from the NFL midway through the 2022 season and returned to a roster on the Panthers' practice squad Tuesday, said he still had an "itch" to play as he watched this season start up and missed football while he was away. 

Martinez, 29, played with the Packers, Giants, and Raiders previously, totaling 512 total tackles in his first four years in Green Bay.

He pointed out that he has familiarity with linebackers coach Peter Hansen, who he played for in college at Stanford.

"I think the people here – I know a bunch of coaches here; it just felt right," Martinez said of why he chose to come out of retirement to come to Carolina. "Honestly, it's one of those things where you get that message, and I believe everything happens for a reason. So when that happened, I was like, this has got to mean something. So it seemed perfect."

View all the action from the Panthers' game against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 9.

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