Johnson's return should bolster Panthers strong pass rush
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) The unbeaten Carolina Panthers already have one of the best pass rushes in the NFL - and more help is on the way.
The Panthers plan to activate defensive end Charles Johnson from short-term injured reserve on Tuesday. Coach Ron Rivera said he expects Johnson will play on Thanksgiving Day against the Dallas Cowboys.
''I think he will add to what we want to do (on defense) and how we want to do it,'' Rivera said. ''Our guys have played very well and getting him back in the fold should mean some very good things for us. As we go forward into the stretch run we want our best players available.''
The Panthers have 22 sacks in the last six games and 31 for the season, tied for second-most in the NFL.
Johnson, who had 52 1/2 sacks over the past five seasons, has missed the last eight weeks on short-term injured reserve with a hamstring injury.
He has practiced with the team for the last two weeks and is officially eligible to return to the 53-man roster on Tuesday.
Johnson has spent all nine seasons with the Panthers.
He battled off and on with hamstring problems in the preseason before re-injuring it more severely in the third game of the season against New Orleans, prompting the team to shut him down.
He had six tackles and one sack in the first three games.
The Panthers promptly traded for Jared Allen, the NFL's active career leader in sacks. Allen has 12 tackles and two sacks in six games and has provided some needed veteran stability at defensive end.
Others have stepped up too with Johnson out.
Second-year defensive end Kony Ealy, who has been starting opposite Johnson, has a sack in each of the last four games including two forced fumbles. Defensive tackle Kawann Short leads the team with six sacks, five of them coming in October when he was named NFC Defensive Player of the Month. And pass rushing specialist Mario Addison has 4 1/2 sacks for the league's fourth-ranked defense.
Carolina had five sacks against Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, marking the third time in the last five games they've had at least five sacks in a game.
The question now for Rivera is which two defensive ends to start among a threesome that includes Johnson, Allen and the young, but improving Ealy. He said the team hasn't decided yet, but added that is a good problem to have.
''C.J. is one of the most fierce, respected all-down linemen in this league,'' Ealy said. ''When he comes back he is going to open up even more for us.''
As for Silatolu's left guard spot, Rivera said he expects regular starter Andrew Norwell back this week, which will soften the blow. Norwell has missed the last three games with a hamstring issue. Silatolu filled in while Norwell was out.
NOTES: Carolina's Week 13 game at New Orleans Saints on Dec. 6 on FOX has been flexed from 1 p.m. EST to 4:25 p.m. ET.
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