CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Wide receiver Torrey Smith chuckled at the notion that Eric Reid‘s return to the NFL this week might be a distraction for the Carolina Panthers on Sunday when they host the New York Giants.
Smith said Reid‘s stance on racial injustice hasn‘t been an issue in the locker room, adding that “no one cares” if he kneels or not during the national anthem.
He said Reid‘s new teammates are more eager to see what he does on the field rather than what he does before the game.
“It‘s not like he‘s out there and coach calls ‘Cover 3‘ and he‘s going to take a knee and let a guy run by him. If that was the issue, it would be a problem,” Smith said with a laugh. “But that‘s not the way it works. Eric knows what is best for Eric and we all know what he is fighting for.”
Reid, who knelt alongside Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco during the national anthem to bring attention to racial and social injustice, hasn‘t said if he will demonstrate Sunday in his first game since filing a collusion grievance against the NFL alleging that teams wouldn‘t sign him because of his protesting.
Regardless of Reid‘s beliefs, the Panthers (2-1) are excited to have the 2013 Pro Bowler, who is expected to start at safety after Da‘Norris Searcy was placed on injured reserve last week with a concussion.
Cam Newton said the Panthers “got a steal” when they signed the 26-year-old Reid.
“He‘s a great player,” Newton said. “We‘ve accepted him with open arms. We know he‘s going to be an impact player for us, and that‘s all I care about.”
Reid, who is African-American, said after signing a one-year contract with Carolina that he plans to “continue to speak for my people” and use his platform to talk about injustices.
“I‘m going to stand by him and none of that will be a distraction as far as us winning football games,” Newton said. “What he does on the football field is going to impact this team. I know that.”
Things to watch in Sunday‘s game:
When Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly turned on the film this week, he saw plenty of familiar plays being run by the Giants. New York‘s offensive coordinator is Mike Shula, who worked as Carolina‘s offensive coordinator from 2013-17. So Kuechly saw just about every one of Shula‘s play calls over the last five years in practice.
Of course, what Kuechly didn‘t see too much of on tape this week were zone read options, something Shula ran frequently with Newton as his quarterback. That‘s not something the Giants are running with the slow-footed Eli Manning at the helm. “If Eli runs like Cam does, then we are in trouble,” Kuechly said.
Moving the ball and scoring points has been a struggle this season for the Giants under Shula.
ON THE RUN
Giants coach Pat Shurmur admittedly didn‘t use rookie Saquon Barkley enough in the loss to the Saints last weekend. The running game was limited to 65 yards on 15 carries. Barkley had 44 yards on 10 carries, with 28 coming on a sprint around end. New York usually doesn‘t win unless it can establish some kind of run game to set up the play-action pass. Expect Barkley to either double his carries this week or have backup Wayne Gallman carry more than twice. The Panthers are allowing 110 yards per game on the ground.
Jonathan Stewart, Carolina‘s all-time leading rusher, was placed on injured reserve last week by New York.
The Giants are optimistic that outside linebacker Olivier Vernon will see his first action of the season after a strong week of practice. Shurmur thinks that could give the defense a boost, saying “when you have a fresh body that has the talent, the skill and abilities of a pass rusher, it helps your defense. Certainly adding him back to the mix will help.”
Vernon has 40 ½ sacks over the past five seasons while playing mostly defensive end. He missed the first four games after suffering a high ankle sprain in late August.
DEFENDING RUSHING QBS
The Giants‘ defense has struggled against opposing quarterbacks in the run game. In four games, opposition QBs have gained 151 yards on 20 carries, a 7.55 average. That could be a major problem this week with Newton taking snaps. The 2015 league MVP has carried 28 times for 136 yards and three touchdowns in three games. He has rushed for at least 700 yards in each of the last three seasons, joining Michael Vick as the only NFL quarterbacks with three 700-yard seasons rushing. The Saints used a new wrinkle last weekend against the Giants, having backup quarterback Taysom Hill rush four times for 28 yards.
Aided by Newton‘s skills as a runner , the Panthers have the league‘s No. 1-ranked rushing offense, while the Giants are 29th against the run. So it shouldn‘t be too hard to figure out what Carolina wants to do Sunday. Christian McCaffrey is coming off a career-high 184 yards rushing on 28 carries in a 31-21 win against the Bengals before the bye week. But given that offensive coordinator Norv Turner is known to mix things up from week to week, it wouldn‘t be a shocker if Turner leans a little more heavily on backup running back C.J. Anderson this week.
AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan contributed to this report.
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