Panthers’ DT Star Lotulelei Out With Foot Injury
Star Lotulelei has been recovering well from off-season foot surgery after breaking it in last year’s playoffs. Thanks to quick surgery in January, Lotulelei looked well on his way to 100% and was already participating in the Carolina Panthers’ training camp.
Per reports, Star Lotulelei suffered a “stress reaction” in his surgically repaired right foot during practice and is expected to miss several weeks. Lotulelie will reportedly be re-evaluated in a “few weeks” and could be in danger of missing the start of the 2015 NFL season.
Gone For Now, Not Forever
The good news is that this, at least at first glance, is a minor set-back. Star Lotulelei had be all accounts been doing well and there was no reason to this point to doubt his health. It’s definitely a blow for Carolina’s chemistry up front in the defensive line, but if the foot progresses as it should, it’s possible Lotulelei doesn’t miss any time at all to start the season.
Even if Star Lotulelei were to miss a game or two to start the year, getting him back at some point in September would still be a huge gain compared to a more serious injury knocking him out for the entire season.
Huge Hole to Fill
Regardless how long Star Lotulelei could be out, the hole the Panthers have to fill while he’s sidelined is massive. Having graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 16th best interior lineman a year ago, it’s beyond obvious how important Star Lotulelei is to Carolina’s stingy run defense.
The numbers don’t show it up, but Lotulelei is also a presence in the pass rush, as he can create chaos with penetration up the middle that constantly demands double-teams. His mere presence forces offenses to account for him and it frees up the rushing lanes for Carolina’s more gifted pass rushers. This is potentially a huge blow for the linebackers, especially the edge rushers trying to get to the quarterback from the outside.
While Star Lotulelei probably won’t be out long, Carolina will at least temporarily have to turn to backups Kawann Short and Colin Cole. Short may actually provide a spark as an arguably superior pass rusher up the middle than Lotulelei, but he’s nowhere close to Star Lotulelei when it comes to his ability to stuff the run. Cole is an aged veteran who would be best served in a rotational role, as he currently is.
Short wouldn’t be a horrid drop-off from Star Lotulelei, but it’s not a desired one. Hopefully for Carolina’s sake, their stud defensive tackle can make it back by week one, when the Panthers are set to take on the Jaguars in Jacksonville.
The latest news on Star Lotulelei brings up a key thought for anyone conducting NFL betting in 2015: don’t bank on every roster looking the same come the end of August. Who goes down and when from now until the end of the year can dramatically change that landscape of the NFL playoffs. Carolina got lucky here, but who will be next? Only time will tell.
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