Damiere Byrd to be placed on injured reserve with lower leg injury

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers wide receiver Damiere Byrd will be placed on injured reserve with a lower leg injury suffered on a kickoff return in Sunday's 22-19 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Defensive end Charles Johnson, coming off a four-week suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, will replace Byrd on the 53-man roster for Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Coach Ron Rivera said first-round draft pick Christian McCaffrey may get some opportunities returning kickoffs and punts, something the staff has tried to limit the past couple of months, with Byrd out.

McCaffrey hasn't returned a kickoff since Week 4 at New England. He has returned only four punts over the past eight games as the coaching staff cut back on his special-team duties to focus on his role as a running back and receiver.

"One thing I've been trying to avoid is putting Christian back there,'' Rivera said on Tuesday. "Limiting his role on special teams has helped him. Maybe in certain spots and situations we may put him back there.''

Byrd, the fastest player on the team, returned a kickoff a team-record 103 yards against the Buccaneers. He also had seen an increased role in the receiving game since returning from injured reserve for a broken forearm suffered in Week 4.

Byrd had 3 catches for 25 yards and 2 touchdowns in a December 17 victory against Green Bay. He already had one catch for 31 yards against Tampa Bay.

The Panthers will fill Byrd's role as a speed receiver with Kaelin Clay and Mose Frazier. McCaffrey also can be used in that role.

Carolina (11-4) also will get back slot receiver Russell Shepard, who missed Sunday's game with a shoulder injury.

Rivera said he plans to play all of his starters against the Falcons since the Panthers, who clinched a playoff spot against Tampa Bay, still can win the NFC South with a win and a New Orleans loss to the Buccaneers.
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