Reinforcements are on the way for the Panthers this weekend, as the team has formally activated three defenders from injured reserve. The Carolina defense has been depending on injury replacements for much of the season but is finally set to return three recent, high draft picks in cornerback Jaycee Horn, safety Jeremy Chinn, and outside linebacker Yetur Gross-Matos.
Injuries have been a torment in Horn’s young career so far. After a fracture in his foot prematurely ended his rookie year after three games, Horn battled back to be fully healthy for his sophomore season. He would miss two games early in the year but would start 13 before suffering a season-ending broken wrist. This year, Horn only got through 20 snaps before suffering a hamstring injury that would require a 10-week IR stint.
Horn’s talent is undeniable. Despite the frequent injuries, the Panthers are always eager to get him back on the field, never choosing to ease him in. He’s started all 17 games he’s appeared in. In the short samples we’ve seen thus far, he’s proven to be as good as advertised. In the lone three games of his rookie season, he nabbed an interception and a pass defended. The following year, in 13 starts, Horn recorded three picks and seven passes defensed. Expect him to slot back in immediately as a starter across from Donte Jackson as soon as the coaching staff deems him healthy enough to return.
Chinn’s return couldn’t come at a better time. His usual starting role had been reduced a bit with the free agent addition of Vonn Bell, but with Bell set to miss this weekend’s matchup with a shoulder injury, Chinn should slot right back in as a full-time starter next to Xavier Woods, as opposed to only being on the field for certain packages in each start.
As Chinn’s role in the Panthers’ defense has changed and Carolina has found a suitable starting duo in Bell and Woods, the team had begun listening to trade offers on their former second-round pick. Before the Eagles brought in All-Pro Kevin Byard from Tennessee, Philadelphia reportedly kicked the tires on Chinn. While Chinn’s future may still lead him out of Carolina eventually, the Panthers will be happy to utilize him while they’ve still got him with Bell out.
Gross-Matos is experiencing a bit of disappointment in a contract year but continues to persist. It started when he was forced to change his style of play a bit to fit in new defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero‘s 3-4 scheme. Then, Gross-Matos took a backseat on the depth chart as veteran free agent signing Justin Houston slotted in as the starter across from pass rushing star Brian Burns.
Gross-Matos responded by putting up 2.5 sacks in six games of limited time before getting placed on IR, a much faster pace than he’s shown in the past. Houston has since been placed on IR, as well, forcing Carolina to turn to options like Marquis Haynes, Amare Barno, and rookie third-round pick DJ Johnson as starters at outside linebacker. Gross-Matos should now get a chance to make a strong case for himself as an extension candidate or future free agent.
The Panthers are dangerously close to becoming the first team eliminated from playoff contention, and given that Chicago owns their first-round pick thanks to the trade that helped the Panthers to draft quarterback Bryce Young No. 1 overall last year, the team doesn’t have much of a reason for tanking. So, this next stretch of three-straight divisional matchups proves as a measuring stick of how Carolina may measure up with a more-experienced Young and a less-injured defense.
Additionally, the team announced their two standard gameday elevations from the practice squad. Defensive end Chris Wormley and offensive guard Justin McCray will both be suiting up for tomorrow’s matchup in Tampa Bay.