By Ted Fleming
If there is any way an injured player can find a way back into the lineup, the final game of the regular season is it especially if their team is not headed to the playoffs. It is their last chance to make an impression on current or prospective head coaches and general managers.
For better or for worse, the Panthers head to The Big Easy for the 2012 finale against the Saints and every man on the active roster has a chance to get in their last licks.
Of those listed as questionable, only center Geoff Hangartner and defensive end Greg Hardy failed to practice on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and could be a game time decision. Running back Jonathan Stewart was limited on Wednesday and while he sat out the next two days he has made progress and could split some time with DeAngelo Williams. If he cannot go fullback Mike Tolbert will see an increase in his time on the field while second year back Armond Smith has a chance to be active for the fourth time this year. Wide receiver Joe Adams should be good to go after being a full participant all week.
The Panthers probable list was chocked full of names although eight of them were not injury related and more about rest in preparation for a game that could net the team their seventh win of the year, one more than a year ago which is leaps and bounds more than anyone could have envisioned after a 1-6 start.
The Saints, on the other hand, have a pair of starters out, cornerback Jabari Greer and running back Pierre Thomas as well as backup defensive tackle Akiem Hicks.
The loss of Thomas puts a crimp in the Saints running attack and could affect Drew Brees run at 5,000 passing yards as he needs just 219 to get there. The 28 year old out of Illinois has run for 473 opposite Mark Ingraham who has 563. New Orleans doesn’t depend on the ground game as much as the pass but they need to establish it to make Brees more effective. Eight year pro Darren Sproles will get the call for Thomas.
Not that the Saints defense is all-world, the last thing they need is a starter to go down and Jabari Greer’s absence could give the Panthers’ Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell will take turns seeing if Elbert Mack can step in and defend against them. New Orleans is 31st out of 32 teams against the pass and Carolina QB Cam Newton should have a field day on Sunday on the proviso that DeAngelo Williams or whoever runs the ball establishes that part of the team’s game. Even if they do not, the 23 year old should better his season’s average of 241 yards a game.
The following is the injury report issued on Friday by the National Football League for the Panthers-Saints game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans on Sunday, December 30, 2012
Carolina Panthers, 6-9 (** denotes starter):
WR Joe Adams (ankle), LB James Anderson (back), C Geoff Hangartner (foot), RB Jonathan Stewart (ankle)
LB Thomas Davis (not injury related), DT Dwan Edwards (not injury related), T Jordan Gross (not injury related), DE Greg Hardy (not injury related), DE Charles Johnson (not injury related), WR Brandon LaFell (toe), TE Greg Olsen (not injury related), WR Steve Smith (not injury related), RB DeAngelo Williams (not injury related)
New Orleans Saints, 7-8 (** denotes starter):
** CB Jabari Greer (concussion), DT Akiem Hicks (knee), ** RB Pierre Thomas (knee)
** FB Jed Collins (knee), ** TE Jimmy Graham (wrist, finger), RB Chris Ivory (hamstring)
For reference –
Out: there is no chance the injured player will be medically cleared for the game
Doubtful: a 25% chance the injured player will be medically cleared for the game
Questionable: a 50% chance the injured player will be medically cleared for the game
Probable: a 75% chance the injured player will be medically cleared for the game
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.