By Danny Cox
That extra week of practice and/or rest for the Carolina Panthers has been one of the most necessary weeks of the entire season thus far. They had only a handful of injuries that were plaguing them, but those injuries were to some players that are overly important cogs on both offense and defense.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers are riding a big-time win streak and the momentum of a last-second win over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
Carolina may have seen its steam exhausted due to the long lay-off, but it was truly needed. Now, they’ve got just about their entire active roster at full speed and prepared to move on to the NFC Championship Game against the New Orleans Saints or Seattle Seahawks.
One of the most notable names on the injury report is that of wide receiver Steve Smith. His knee injury suffered a few weeks ago kept him out of the season finale and he’s been limited all this week in practice, but the chances of him sitting out this weekend are slim to none.
Brandon LaFell and the other wide receivers weren’t able to pick up the slack against the Atlanta Falcons and his presence is truly needed.
Offensively, running back Jonathan Sterwart was also a full-go at practice this week. His knee injury, along with a long-standing ankle problem, kept him out the majority of the regular season. He looks like he is ready to join DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert in the backfield behind Cam Newton.
Backup tight end Ben Hartsock has been troubled with a knee injury as well, but he looks like he’ll be ready for the Niners. While Greg Olsen is a primary target for Newton, Hartsock is very important in blocking for Newton and the running game.
Safety Quintin Mikell jammed his thumb a couple weeks ago, but he’s been a full-go at practice this week and ready to play.
Defensive tackle Colin Cole hurt his calf in the second-to-last game of the season as the Panthers defeated the Saints. He’s been taking it easy and taking advantage of the added rest, but chances are very good he’ll be ready for Carolina’s game on Sunday.
The San Francisco 49ers are riding high right now as they got a big win over the Packers, but the Panthers are rested and healed. All are ready and they’ll be present in their “black-out” uniforms for the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs.
- DT Colin Cole – Calf
- WR Steve Smith – Knee
- RB Jonathan Stewart – Knee
- TE Ben Hartsock – Knee
- S Quintin Mikell – Thumb
For more news and updates about the NFL Playoffs, visit NFL Playoffs Central.
Danny Cox knows a little something about the NFL, whether it means letting you know what penalty will come from the flag just thrown on the field or quickly spouting off who the Chicago Bears drafted in the first round of the 1987 draft (Jim Harbaugh). He plans on bringing you the best news, previews, recaps, and anything else that may come along with the exciting world of the National Football League. Danny is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.