Luke Kuechly back at practice, but status for Sunday still in question

ByDavid Newton ESPN logo
Thursday, December 8, 2016

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly practiced Wednesday for the first time since leaving the field in tears with a concussion late in a Nov. 17 home game against New Orleans.

The three-time Pro Bowl selection still hasn't been cleared from the concussionprotocol, so his status for Sunday's home game against San Diego remains in question.

But coach Ron Rivera said Kuechly has advanced to the next stage of the protocol and will be re-evaluated by the medical staff Thursday.

Rivera added there never has been any consideration of sitting Kuechly for the final four games now that the Panthers (4-8) are all but out of playoff contention.

"He's a football player," Rivera said. "If he passes the protocol and he wants to play and the doctors want him to play, he'll play. It's that simple. I don't control the protocol."

Kuechly, who has missed the past two games, missed three games last season after suffering a concussion in the opener at Jacksonville.

The Panthers gave up a combined 900 yards and 75 points the past two weeks with Kuechly out of the lineup in losses at Oakland and Seattle.

"It's one of those things, when guys get back on the football field, it brings a little energy," Rivera said. "He sparked a little energy for the defense again."

Tight end Ed Dickson said Kuechly defended him on pass routes a couple of times in practice.

"Anytime that guy is on the field, we have a chance to win," Dickson said.

Kuechly, the NFL's leading tackler since he entered the league in 2012, still leads Carolina in tackles with 112. Outside linebacker Thomas Davis is second with 100.

Starting strong safety Kurt Coleman also returned to practice Wednesday after missing Sunday's 40-7 loss at Seattle with a concussion.

Missing at practice was defensive end Charles Johnson, who suffered a hamstring injury against the Seahawks. Rivera said Johnson's status will be week-to-week.

Defensive end Mario Addison worked on the side for the first time since suffering a foot injury in the New Orleans game.