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Tuesday Brew: Making a plan, with Shaq Thompson out for the year 

Tuesday Brew

CHARLOTTE – Frank Reich confirmed that Panthers team captain and stalwart linebacker Shaq Thompson would "likely miss the remainder of the season" after undergoing surgery on a fractured fibula Tuesday morning, heading to injured reserve and leaving a hole in the linebacking corps.

Thompson sustained the injury in the first half of Monday night's 20-17 home-opening loss to the Saints, casting a shadow upon a generally strong defensive performance overall.

Reich said he'd already had early conversations with general manager Scott Fitterer and defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero about what's likely to come in the next few days.

But he was still waiting to share any definitive plans as of Tuesday afternoon.

"We'll probably address that as we go here this week," Reich said. "Scott and I have talked. I've talked with EJ at length. We talked about that plan, but not ready to lay out exactly what that's going to be at this point. …

"We'll look at all options. We have an initial plan in mind. And it's obviously a pretty quick turnaround here. So I've had initial conversations, and I know you guys can understand we want to double and triple check things and confirm things before we move forward."

Thompson's teammates stepped up in his stead against New Orleans, including Frankie Luvu, who had a strong night with two sacks and nine tackles.

"He has this energy about him that is infectious," Reich said of Luvu. "It's contagious. We all recognize it. We all feel it. He's a very smart player. Like this guy is wicked smart.

"The way he plays this game, we can use him in versatile ways. He gets the sacks. He can play at the line of scrimmage. He can play in the second level. He can rush inside. He can rush outside – cannot underestimate the value he has to our team."

Frankie Luvu, Kamu Grugier-Hill

Similar words of praise were heaped upon Kamu Grugier-Hill, a special teams ace who was brought in on the defensive side after Thompson's injury. He finished the game with six tackles and a sack of his own.

"He played very well," Reich said. "He was playing a bunch of special teams, and then we took him off of teams. But he came in there and did a good job. It did not surprise me.

"I've known Kamu – worked with Kamu before. As I've mentioned to you guys once before, he's played some football. I coached against him when he was a starting linebacker for Houston. So I have a lot of respect for what he did yesterday."

But it's hard to replace what Thompson brought as a leader, and Reich repeated that sentiment Tuesday.

"It's hard to put into words; we talk about a brotherhood, he's just a close brother," Reich said. "This is a warrior. This is a guy who knows how to practice. He knows how to play. He's a team-first player. I was texting him last night, and he's already talking about trying to figure out ways he's going to get back. This is before he has all the news on all the stuff, but you know, trying to figure out a way he's going to help the team.

"These injuries hurt. But as I said yesterday and will continue to say, the train's got to keep going on. And you can love your brother and feel bad for your brother, and at the same time understand we've got to have the next-man-up mentality."

Shaq Thompson

– Backup quarterback Andy Dalton came in for Bryce Young on two short-yardage situations against the Saints. Though only one Dalton-led play got off Monday (the other was halted by a false start penalty against right guard Cade Mays), Reich said his role as a change-up signal-caller could crop up again.

"That could be part of the plan," Reich said of Dalton's role in certain situations. "It's always a week-to-week plan, right? Every opponent is a different opponent. So that'll be a weekly decision.

"Andy's a very experienced guy. So if we're bringing him in there to do whatever we're bringing him in there to do, we feel like he'll do a good job of it."

Reich pointed to how he used Jacoby Brissett in similar situations as a backup quarterback on short-yardage plays while he was at Indianapolis, and he also alluded to how the Saints utilized versatile offensive weapon Taysom Hill against the Panthers on Monday.

New Orleans lined Hill up on multiple runs and even had him throw a pass while Derek Carr was the primary starter.

Reich said his philosophy is more about capitalizing upon what Dalton brings.

"There's a lot of different things we could do, but I just feel very comfortable in Andy," Reich said. "And some of those things you just want to limit the exposure of Bryce to – and Bryce can do any of it, but you've got an experienced veteran.

"There's no golden rule that says he can't come in and play a couple plays in the game. I mean, look at what the Saints do. I know Taysom Hill's a different story. But why not do that to a lesser extent if it can be utilized in a positive way?"

Andy Dalton, JJ Jansen

– Upon examining the tape on receivers, Reich said that while there would "certainly" be corrections with the group on a couple of items, he still had a lot of confidence in the unit.

The Panthers combined for 153 yards on 22 receptions Monday, with Adam Thielen carrying the bulk of the load with a seven-catch, 54-yard night capped off by a late touchdown grab and successful 2-point conversion.

Reich credited the New Orleans defense, pointing out that the Saints have allowed 20 points or fewer in 10 straight games dating back to last season.

"That's a very salty defense that is very experienced in a system that has been very productive," Reich said. "I thought we were going to light it up. I thought we were going to break that streak. And it was our intent. But I can't pinpoint that on the receivers. I think that was a coaching, playing, all-of-us-together thing."

Receiving no targets and just one rushing attempt (for 7 yards) on the night was Laviska Shenault Jr., whom the Panthers had mentioned a growing role for throughout the offseason.

"We've got to do a better job; we as coaches have to do a better job of finding a way to get him a few more touches," Reich said. "Saw the one run yesterday; he made a great individual effort on the run. And there was stuff up for him, I can assure you that, here and there – some of it especially in Week 1 and to some degree in Week 2. But yeah, we have to continue to find ways to get Laviska involved."

– Whether it's a lack of chunk plays, deep passes, or established offensive rhythm, Reich said the whole staff is looking at itself and evaluating the missed opportunities of the first two weeks against Atlanta and New Orleans.

Reich said he's "never going to single any coach or any player out," but the missed opportunities were clear in film review, and they'll be looking to correct them before Sunday at Seattle.

"There have been opportunities in two games for multiple big plays that we just haven't hit on at this point," Reich said. "But that tells us that we've got the guys, and we've got the people we need. And we can make those plays.

"But secondly, we have to find ways to continue to execute better, get on the details better, keep us in phase more often, so we get a chance to call more and more of those kind of plays, those chunk plays, on good down-and-distance situations."

View all the action from the Panthers' game against New Orleans on Monday Night Football.

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