CHARLOTTE – Versatility is a virtue in the NFL. And the Panthers versatility is being tested in Week 5.
The defensive line and running backs are facing the biggest challenges due to depth concerns. Defensive end Charles Johnson missed practice for the second consecutive day with a hip flexor, meaning Carolina has been practicing with just three defensive ends – Mario Addison, Wes Horton and Kony Ealy.
Head coach Ron Rivera expects Johnson to practice Friday and play Sunday against the Chicago Bears, but the Panthers have to be prepared in the event he can't play or is limited. As a result, defensive tackles Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei have taken some reps at defensive end this week.
"The whole D-line is versatile," Addison said. "I know we can pull it off. We'll be just fine."
Linebacker Jason Williams is versatile, too. If needed, Rivera said Williams could line up at defensive end, creating a semblance of a 3-4 defense.
"He's done it in the past and he's a terrific blitzer coming off the edge," Rivera said. "He has that kind of ability. If he was a little taller, he'd be a starting outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense."
Rivera isn't yet sure who is starting at running back, but he is "pretty comfortable" with his three options.
"Each one has their specialty," Rivera said.
Fozzy Whittaker (thigh) returned to practice Thursday, and he, along with undrafted rookie Darrin Reaves and newly-signed running back/fullback Chris Ogbonnaya, will likely make up Carolina's backfield rotation on Sunday. Jonathan Stewart (knee) did not practice Thursday and is unlikely to play.
And with fullback Richie Brockel also out, tight end Brandon Williams is prepared to absorb some fullback responsibilities.
"He is in the same mold," Rivera said. "He'll play tight end and fullback."
It's undoubtedly a makeshift backfield, but it doesn't matter. The Panthers are confident they'll make it work.
"We know the work we put in and the amount of intensity that we are going to bring to the game," Whittaker said. "We hope they overlook us. We'll show what we can do."