Panthers rookie TE Thomas prepares to replace injured Olsen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — While the Carolina Panthers opened the regular season with a 16-8 win against the Dallas Cowboys, it did not come without a cost.

Three-time Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen spent the second half watching the game from the sideline on crutches with his right foot in a boot — the same foot he fractured in 2017 causing him to miss nine games. Later in the game, second-team All-Pro right tackle Daryl Williams was carted off with a knee injury and did not return.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera and general manager Marty Hurney offered no immediate updates Monday on the extent of the injuries.

"I've told you this, and I'll tell you again: I have not talked to RV (head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion)," Rivera said Monday. "I usually wait until after this (news conference). It's a question I'm not going to answer. I don't know (the extent of the injury), to be honest with you."

The Panthers are expected to turn to rookie Ian Thomas to start Sunday at tight end against Atlanta, while Amini Silatolu will likely fill in at right tackle.

The Panthers are high on Thomas, who they think has the combination of receiving and blocking skills to be a good fit in their offense, even though he only played two seasons of major college football at Indiana.

"I think he's pretty well prepared," Rivera said. "There are some things, obviously, that he still has to learn and he has a long way to go in terms of having the natural feel that Greg has and having that rapport Greg has.

"He's been good with his blocking, he's been good with his route running, he's been good with his receiving. But he's got to get better as a route runner, a blocker and a receiver. He's a young guy. There's a lot to his game he's got to learn."

When the Panthers drafted Thomas with the first pick in the fourth round this year they did so with the idea of bringing him along slowly and learning behind Olsen.

He was a project, more or less.

But now everything has been fast-tracked.

"It's like going right into the fire and playing right away," Thomas said. "Learning from my mistakes every play. I played two years of college football but I guess now is my time to get all of the kinks out."

Thomas said he spoke to several teams before the NFL draft and walked away feeling that some of them felt like he wasn't a good blocker. He disagrees and is out to change that image.

"I felt like I have gotten much better over the last few months," Thomas said.

As for Williams, he dislocated his kneecap and tore the medial collateral ligament in training camp but managed to return for the season opener, which was no small feat. But he injured the same knee against the Cowboys when he got hit there by another player's helmet.

Silatolu, who had pretty much won the starting left guard spot before his own knee injury in preseason, will test his ware at the tackle spot if called upon to start.

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