One of the troubling aspects of the Panthers’ slow start is that they lost four of their first five games without any significant injuries.
Now they have one.
Ryan Kalil, the Pro Bowl center whose Super Bowl pledge in July was meant to rally teammates and fans, will undergo season-ending surgery on his left foot after being diagnosed with a Lisfranc injury, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday.
Kalil, who has played in the past three Pro Bowls, sustained the injury during the first half of last week’s 16-12 loss to Seattle. After trainers checked him out and taped the foot, Kalil returned to the game and played the entire second half.
The Panthers initially thought Kalil had a sprained foot.
But an exam by Robert Anderson, a team doctor and nationally renowned foot and ankle specialist, revealed the Lisfranc injury – a dislocation of one or more bones on the top of the foot.
“It’s unfortunate. He was having a terrific year in spite of our situation,” Rivera said. “Individually, he was doing great. We’re just going to hope for the best and we’ll go from there.”
Kalil, who has started every game since 2009, will go on injured reserve for the first time in his career.
“He’s struggling with it because he’s such an emotional player. He wants to be out there with his guys fighting for us,” Rivera said. “That was tough, a tough pill for him to swallow right now. But he’ll bounce back. He’ll get it taken care of and he’ll be back as good as new.”
The Panthers made Kalil the league’s highest-paid center last year with a six-year contract extension worth $49 million, including $28 million in guaranteed money. The former second-round pick from Southern Cal is both a leader and prankster in the locker room.
Kalil took out a full-page ad in the Observer before training camp that he called a rallying cry for fans. Kalil wrote about ending the season in New Orleans with a “sterling silver victory” and taking home the Lombardi Trophy.
Rivera had T-shirts printed for the team emblazoned with the message: “I have Ryan Kalil’s back.”
“He’s certainly one of the emotional leaders, and it’s hard to replace those kind of guys,” Rivera said. “But the truth of the matter is it’s time for us as a team to step up anyway. This is another one of those things that’s going to try us. But that’s why we keep guys as backup players because now they’ve got their opportunity.”
Right guard Geoff Hangartner will shift to center, and Jeff Byers and Garry Williams will compete at right guard. Rivera said the Panthers will look outside the organization for offensive line help, as well.
Mike Pollak, a guard/center signed as a free agent during the offseason to provide line depth, was placed on IR last week with a shoulder injury.
Hangartner, who has more career starts at center than guard, said filling in for Kalil will not be easy.
“I’m comfortable at center. I’m going to have to get used to being the one that’s making the calls. Ryan doesn’t get enough credit for all the traffic directing he does and all the calls that he makes and all the blitz pick-up stuff he does,” Hangartner said. “That will add to my responsibility. I’ll have to make sure to be on top of it like he has been every week. But I have confidence that I’ll move over there and play well.”
Attempts to reach Kalil on Wednesday were unsuccessful. Hangartner, who is close with Kalil, said he’s taking the injury hard.
“I know Ryan’s really bummed, frustrated with the way it ended up. It ended up being, obviously, a lot more serious than originally thought,” Hangartner said. “The guy’s tough. He’s obviously a leader. He’s been a Pro Bowler, a consistent player for us. In my opinion, the best center in the league. So when you lose a guy like that, it’s never good.”
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