CHARLOTTE – The Panthers had a long list of injuries to review after the 21-0 win over Buffalo in Friday night's preseason finale, and head coach Matt Rhule provided news during a Saturday press conference.
Rhule said kicker Zane Gonzalez's groin injury was "significant" and "long-term," but he said it was unclear of whether or not it would be season-ending.
"He's going to be seen by a specialist, and that will lead to any future decisions that have to be made," Rhule said. "But it is a significant injury to his groin. And obviously, our thoughts are with Zane at this time. He's a warrior. He'll find a way to battle back, and we'll find out exactly what the length of that is."
Gonzalez was carted off in the third quarter after injuring himself while warming up on the sideline, a non-contact injury reminiscent of the quad injury he sustained pregame in Buffalo last year.
Rhule said the Panthers are exploring options at kicker, and special teams coach Chris Tabor is involved in the search.
"There are five or six teams, you know, that, that, you know, we're waiting to see what happens with their rosters," Rhule said. "There's some guys that are out there. So everything from probably working guys out to looking at who's out there. We're going to have to attack it because this is this is obviously a major thing for us."
Quarterback Sam Darnold sustained a "significant" high ankle sprain, Rhule said. He said he was not yet sure of how long Darnold would be out, seeking further tests after the initial MRI. NFL Network reported Darnold could miss between four and six weeks.
"We're not sure we have the exact length," Rhule said. "We've sent images to specialists to try to gauge it. But again, that does look like a significant injury that could take some time."
Darnold was Carolina's option as a backup quarterback to Baker Mayfield, who officially won the job last Monday. With Darnold's ankle injury and rookie Matt Corral's season-ending Lisfranc injury sustained at New England last week, the Panthers are left with PJ Walker behind Mayfield on the current roster.
It poses a complicated situation with roster math as the cut to 53 looms Tuesday, since players have to be on the initial 53-man roster to be activated from IR after missing at least four weeks. Rhule said he and general manager Scott Fitterer are exploring options at all positions.
"We have two quarterbacks (and) normally we would go into the season with two," Rhule said. "Sam, I think he will be back. It's just a matter of how many weeks it is. Every position, we'll look at every option."
Darnold was carted off the field in the second half of the Buffalo game, with a group of Panthers and Bills quarterback Josh Allen rushing over to wish him well. He didn't speak with reporters after the game, and his personal items were left in the locker room with a pair of crutches while he was checked out by medical staff.
Rhule didn't have an immediate update on tight end/fullback Giovanni Ricci, though also left the Buffalo game in the second half with a groin injury. He did say it wasn't as serious as the Gonzalez and Darnold situations, which is a positive.
Center Bradley Bozeman is expected to return to practice this week, Rhule said, with the hope he will be able to return for the season opener against Cleveland. Wide receiver Robbie Anderson and tight end Ian Thomas are also expected to be back this week.
Defensive tackle Derrick Brown was ruled out for the second half of the Bills game due to an oblique injury, but Brown said the injury was "not a problem" and that he could've gone back in.
View photos of Carolina's matchup against Buffalo at Bank of America Stadium in the final game of the preseason.