CHARLOTTE — The Panthers had a welcome sight on the practice field Wednesday, as linebacker Shaq Thompson was back among his teammates after missing the last three games.
Thompson's been out with a foot injury, and was limited in his workload, but Panthers coach Matt Rhule said he was optimistic about Thompson's chances of playing Sunday against the Falcons.
"I sure hope so," Rhule said. "He practiced today in full pads, and ran around. He was limited in terms of the amount of reps we gave him. We'll see how he progresses through the rest of the week.
"It's kind of that first time back, we'll see how he feels tomorrow, but I'm hopeful he'll have a chance to play."
Thompson had 25 tackles, a sack, an interception and two tackles for loss in the first four games (including playing through his foot injury in Dallas). His leadership has also been missed, as things have slipped during the four-game losing streak.
They also had cornerback Stephon Gilmore, and safeties Juston Burris and Myles Hartsfield on the field Wednesday, with hopes they could be activated this week. That would represent a huge boost to a defense that needs one.
— With right guard John Miller going to injured reserve Tuesday, the Panthers are set to start their sixth different combination of offensive linemen in eight games this week.
Rhule didn't specify who'd start, saying Trent Scott, Brady Christensen, and Dennis Daley were options.
Veteran left tackle Cameron Erving noted the need for them to build continuity in a hurry, and to take personally some of the issues they've had in protection this year. He missed last week's game with an illness (he said he couldn't keep anything down for a few days), and said it was hard watching last week's loss to the Giants.
"It's so many things in a game that contribute to the successes or failures on the offensive side of the ball," Erving said. "And the offensive line has to be the most cohesive unit on the field, to be successful. Everybody has to work together as one. It was hard to see it, but at the end of the day, I know what's in this room, and I know what's on this offense, and I know what's in these guys' hearts.
"And we've just got to have some, excuse me, but s--- about ourselves as men to go out here and get things done."
— New punter Lachlan Edwards (he's on the practice squad at the moment but is expected to be promoted this week), has some experience from four years with the Jets.
That made it a quick adjustment to get used to working with long snapper JJ Jansen and kicker Zane Gonzalez for his dual roles as punter and holder this week.
"I think we've got that pretty down pat already," Edwards said. "Holding for me, I've done it throughout my career, so to slide in with J.J., he's obviously played in the NFL for a long time, him adjusting to me maybe takes about 10 reps, and then Zane will just put it through. I put it down laces out, and he'll be fine."