David NewtonESPN staff writer3 minutes of reading
CHARLOTTE, NC – Carolina Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson is expected to miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery Tuesday morning to repair a fractured fibula.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Panthers coach Frank Reich said when asked what he will miss most about not having his veteran. “We talk about brotherhood — he’s just a close brother. This is a warrior. He’s a guy who knows how to coach, knows how to play, is a team player.”
“I was texting him last night. He’s talking about ways he can come back before he gets all the news (requiring surgery), trying to figure out a way to help the team. These injuries hurt.”
Replacing Thompson, who led the team with 135 last season, a week after losing starting quarterback Jaycee Horn (hamstring) for an extended period, won’t be easy.
Reich said he and general manager Scott Fitterer have discussed a plan to replace Thompson with someone on the roster or look outside, and all options are on the table.
Veteran Kamu Grugier-Hill, 29, replaced Thompson in Monday night’s 20-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints and finished with six tackles and a sack.
“He played very well,” Reich said. “It didn’t surprise me. I’ve worked with Kama before. He played some football. I coached against him when he was the starting quarterback for Houston, so I have a lot of respect for what he did (Monday) night.”
Thompson was injured when Saints left tackle Trevor Penning was knocked down by linebacker DeShawn Williams. The full force of the 325-pound Penning landed on the back of Thompson’s leg and ankle.
Williams took to Twitter shortly before Reich’s press conference after receiving social media criticism for the play.
“I want to say to the so-called fans who think I would intentionally hurt someone, it’s a joke,” Williams wrote. “I’m sick of what happened. Not just my teammates, but someone who brought me to this team like family.”
As devastated as Reich has been with Thompson’s situation, his immediate concern is to fix an offense that has struggled during an 0-2 start with rookie Bryce Young.
He defended Young after the game, saying the offense was close to clicking.
“I’ve seen that before,” Reich said. “It’s not that far. It looks bad, but I really don’t believe it’s that far. We’ll make a few plays here or there and then you know you’ve got 28, 30 points. I know we’ve got the players and the coaches to do it. O I don’t doubt it.’
However, Young has struggled and after two games is 27th in the NFL in total QBR (35.5), 31st in passer rating (66.6) and 28th in completion percentage (59.2 ).
Reich said it’s about “staying in phase,” which means staying in front of the chains on early downs with the running game and short passing game.
“So we’re getting to manageable third downs,” Reich said. “Start running the game like we did in Week 1 and then stay in phase and then we have to execute and not back off.”
But moving forward, starting with Sunday’s game in Seattle, Reich understands he will have to replace a key piece in Thompson.
“The train must go on,” Reich said. “You can love your brother and feel bad for your brother and understand that we have to change the mentality of the next man.”