Panthers’ longtime leader Shaq Thompson undergoes surgery less than 24 hours after injury

Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson is likely to miss the remainder of the 2023 season after undergoing successful surgery on a fractured fibula, Carolina head coach Frank Reich confirmed on Tuesday.

Thompson sustained the injury late in the first quarter of the 20-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Monday night. Thompson underwent surgery less than 24 hours after defensive lineman DeShawn Williams and Saints offensive tackle Trevor Penning fell onto his leg — twisting it awkwardly — during a red-zone play for New Orleans.

The entire Panthers sideline journeyed over to Thompson before he was carted off the field. Veteran linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill was asked to immediately step in to replace Thompson on defense. Reich said Tuesday that Grugier-Hill played well in Thompson’s absence.

Thompson’s likely season-ending injury comes as the Panthers have slumped to start the season. Thompson joins left guard Brady Christensen (biceps) and cornerback Jaycee Horn (hamstring) in recovering from surgeries within the first two weeks of the season.

The Panthers are now 0-2 on the season with an identical record against the NFC South, which features three other teams that are undefeated through two weeks.

Thompson’s injury will hurt the Panthers on and off the field, as he was playing well within the new scheme and retained his role as a captain after taking a massive pay cut this offseason. Thompson is signed through the 2024 season, so his rehabilitation process will be worth monitoring for the team’s long-term outlook.

In the short-term lens, Reich refused to discuss his plan for replacing Thompson.

The head coach said he wasn’t surprised to see Grugier-Hill excel on defense, as he had both worked with and against him during the veteran’s time in the league. Grugier-Hill is known as a special teams ace, but he has started 37 of his 100 career games on defense.

The Panthers also have former Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones on the practice squad. In theory, Carolina could rotate Grugier-Hill — who is still a top contributor on special teams — with Jones and fellow special teams ace Chandler Wooten opposite starter Frankie Luvu, who had an impressive two-sack performance against the Saints.

Even before Carolina inevitably places Thompson on injured reserve, the Panthers have an open spot on their 53-man roster. While the team has some deficiencies at cornerback and wide receiver, Thompson’s injury adds another area of concern to the mix.

Mike Kaye covers the Carolina Panthers for The Charlotte Observer. Kaye previously covered the entire NFL for Pro Football Network, the Philadelphia Eagles for NJ Advance Media and the Jacksonville Jaguars for First Coast News. He is a graduate of the University of North Florida.

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