CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson is expected to miss the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery Tuesday morning to repair a broken fibula.
“It’s hard to put that into words,” Panthers coach Frank Reich said when asked what he’ll miss most about not having his veteran leader. “We talk about a brotherhood — he is just a close brother. This is a warrior. This is a guy who knows how to practice, he knows how to play, he’s a team-first player.
“I was texting him last night. He’s talking about ways he can get back before he gets all the news [about needing surgery], trying to figure out a way he’s going to help the team. These injuries hurt.”
Thompson, who was placed on injured reserve later Tuesday, posted a message to his teammates and Panthers fans on social media.
Minor setback, Major comeback! Don’t count me out! Real panthers fans, I love y’all and I love this city, I truly felt the love in that stadium! To my teammates, I love yall boys and y’all know I’ll be here for y’all every step! #Keeppounding pic.twitter.com/UhawiBc10n
— Shaq Thompson (@ShaqThompson_7) September 19, 2023
Replacing Thompson, who led the team in tackles last season with 135, a week after losing starting cornerback Jaycee Horn (hamstring) for an extended period won’t be easy.
Reich said he and general manager Scott Fitterer have discussed a plan, whether to replace Thompson with somebody 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 did not surprise me. I have worked with Kamu before. He’s played some football. I coached against him when he was a starting linebacker 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 slung to the ground by defensive end DeShawn Williams. The full force of the 325-pound Penning landed on the back of Thompson’s leg and ankle.
Williams went on Twitter shortly before Reich’s news conference after receiving social media criticism for the play.
“Want to say for the so called fans who think I would hurt someone on purpose, it jokes,” Williams wrote. “I’m sick at what happened. Not just my teammates but someone that brought me into this team as family.”
As crushed as Reich was over Thompson’s situation, his immediate concern is fixing an offense that has struggled during an 0-2 start with rookie quarterback Bryce Young.
He defended Young after the game, saying the offense is close to clicking.
“I’ve seen this before,” Reich said. “It’s not that far away. It looks bad, but really I don’t believe that it’s that far away. We make a couple of plays here or there and next thing you know you have 28, 30 points. I know we have the players and the coaches to do it. I have zero doubt about that.”
But Young has struggled and ranks 27th in the NFL in Total QBR (35.5), 31st in passer rating (66.6) and 28th in completion percentage (59.2) after two games.
Reich said it’s a matter of “staying in phase,” meaning staying ahead of the chains on early downs with the running game and short passing game.
“So we get to manageable third downs,” Reich said. “Get the run game going like we did in Week 1, and then stay in phase and then we’ve got to execute and not set ourselves backward.”
But moving forward, starting with Sunday’s game at Seattle, Reich understands he’ll have to replace a key piece in Thompson.
“The train’s got to keep going on,” Reich said. “You can love your brother and feel bad for your brother, and at the same time understand we’ve got to have the next man up mentality.”