CHARLOTTE – In head coach Ron Rivera's final chat with the media prior to the Panthers' showdown against the Philadelphia Eagles, Rivera laid out his ideal scenario for veteran defensive end Jared Allen in his return from a pinched nerve.
"Thirty, thirty-five good snaps, impacting and influencing the quarterback a few times," Rivera said.
Allen impacted Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford a few times down the stretch to help secure the victory, but it happened as Allen surpassed double the number of snaps that Rivera had forecast for him.
Allen, much like running back Jonathan Stewart on the other side of the ball, proved they have plenty left in the tank at end of games like the one Sunday, but Rivera said Monday that he wants to make sure they still have something to give at the end of the season.
"We've got to keep these veteran guys young. We can't put as many snaps on them as we have," Rivera said. "It's about preserving these guys as we go down the stretch – this year even more so with the way the schedule lines up. You've got to think in terms of that."
On defense, Rivera wants Allen, safety Roman Harper and cornerback Charles Tillman – who collectively had 32 NFL seasons to their credit entering 2015 – to come out at times both to stay fresh and to get younger players more involved. That hope for Allen against the Eagles was complicated by Philadelphia's hurry-up approach on offense as well as a third-quarter shoulder injury suffered by fellow defensive end Mario Addison.
Allen ended up playing 77 of the Panthers' 83 defensive snaps.
"With the no-huddle, that's always a challenge," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "It's hard to get guys out. Once you go out there, it's like, 'Hey, I'll see you at the end of the series.'
"We would have liked to have him play less snaps, but also Mario created a little bit of a challenge there. I think too we're still learning our players. We're learning a little bit more about Ryan (Delaire) and Jared and what they do well and how we can help them."
Rivera commented two games into the season that he hoped to see Harper spelled some more by Tre Boston, who started alongside Harper late last season. That's exactly what happened the next couple of Sundays, though Harper did play 87 percent of the snaps against Philadelphia. Tillman's snaps, too, have gone down the last three games versus the first three games.
On offense, Rivera shared his hope before the season of finding spots to spell Stewart, but that's a tricky one given his punishing style that impacts opponents come the fourth quarter. Stewart was worn out to the point that rookie Cameron Artis-Payne got one rush late Sunday, but Stewart was again a stalwart with 125 yards on 24 carries.
"It's a fine line because as we've seen, he gets better with carries," offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. "So where is that fine line? Do you continue to roll with him? If not, we have other guys with Mike (Tolbert) and Fozzy (Whittaker) and Cap coming in as a young guy. That's something we'll continue to talk about."
Rivera, in addition to wanting to keep veterans feeling young, wants to build young players into veterans. Rookie wide receiver Devin Funchess, slowed in the preseason by a hamstring injury, is a perfect example. For two consecutive weeks now, Funchess has made both a big play and a disappointing one but is trending in the right direction overall.
"Devin's got the ability," Rivera said. "He's learning to play stronger and is getting off the line of scrimmage much better. He's being more forceful. Now he's got to put it all together. Now he's got to make those catches.
"He's just got to be more consistent."
INJURY UPDATE: Rivera reiterated that Addison suffered a shoulder sprain that is expected to sideline him for at least Monday night's game against the Indianapolis Colts, but Rivera didn't yet have further details on the extent. Rivera said linebacker Luke Kuechly should be fine after a shoulder injury kept him out for two plays.
"Shaq is doing well. He took a big step today," Rivera said. "They taped him up and had him run through some drills. That was good to see, and they did the same thing with Daryl Williams. That's huge.
"Both of them are assigned to do individual work on Wednesday, and if they make it through and show up Thursday morning feeling really good about themselves, then we may have them available."
ROSTER UPDATE: The Panthers signed tight end Nate Askew to their practice squad Monday, filling the spot that opened when Carolina signed tight end Scott Simonson off the practice squad Friday and placed tight end Richie Brockel (hamstring) on injured reserve.
Askew was a linebacker on Tennessee's practice squad as a rookie in 2014 and played linebacker and wide receiver at Texas A&M.
View the top photos by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez from Carolina's game against Philadelphia.