Although Luke Kuechly will not play against the Raiders on Sunday and remains in the concussion protocol, the Panthers are not discussing shutting their cornerstone defender down for the season, Tom Pelissero of USA Today reports.
The three-time All-Pro has made “encouraging progress” this week after sustaining what is believed to be the second concussion of his career, per Pelissero. However, there is no timetable for a Kuechly return.
The 25-year-old defender suffered a concussion last season that caused him to miss three games. He returned to land on his third All-Pro first team on a team that eventually went 15-1 and appeared in Super Bowl 50. Kuechly missing the same amount of time obviously hurts the Panthers’ chances at returning to the playoffs, but that opportunity may well have slipped away when Kuechly was available given the team’s non-injury issues.
Kuechly’s value to the franchise considered, Carolina making the decision on whether or not to shut its middle linebacker down for 2016 likely hinges on its playoff hopes to some degree. The defending NFC champions are two games behind the NFC South-leading Falcons, with six teams ahead of the Panthers in the wild-card race as well. Bringing Kuechly back if the team loses to the Raiders without him Sunday might involve a more substantial conversation. Carolina did shut down Michael Oher after a lengthy battle with a concussion sustained in September, so long-term thinking has already entered the equation for another key starter.
Kuechly has 102 tackles this season, along with six pass deflections, a forced fumble and an interception. The player set to replace Kuechly, fourth-year man A.J. Klein, just completed the final stage of the concussion protocol, per ESPN.com’s David Newton. So, head trauma has been a key issue for the Panthers this season, its two franchise players being at the forefront.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.