CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Panthers are preparing for life without defensive end Charles Johnson — at least for one week.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Thursday the team's top pass rusher "more than likely" will not play Sunday against the Miami Dolphins because of a knee injury. Johnson sprained his knee when his leg got kicked by a Patriots offensive lineman in Monday night's 24-20 win over New England.
Rivera said that likely means Mario Addison, Frank Alexander and rookie Wes Horton would platoon at that position.
"They are all very versatile guys for us," Rivera said.
And all three should have decent opportunities to get to the quarterback. Miami's offensive line has been in disarray on and off the field this season and the Dolphins have allowed a league-high 41 sacks.
Defensive end Greg Hardy said that the Panthers will miss Johnson, who has 8 1-2 sacks this season and 21 in his past 23 games. But he doesn't believe there will be a fall off if Johnson can't play.
He said that's nothing against the man they call "Big Money," but rather a reflection of his confidence in the players who'll replace him.
Hardy said "nothing is going to be different" against the Dolphins without Johnson and "we're going to produce like we always do."
"I feel like the guys next to me are going to step up and make plays simply because they weren't in the game and now they are" Hardy said. "And they are going to do the job."
The Panthers are hoping Hardy picks up some of the slack, too.
Hardy has had a solid season as well. Although he only has five sacks, he leads the team with 20 quarterback pressures — seven more than Johnson. He's also played the run well and is fifth on the team in tackles with 38.
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is well aware of what he's up against regardless of whether or not Johnson plays.
"They play fast," Tannehill said. "That's the biggest thing. They've got a great front. If you look at their front seven it's probably one of the best we'll face all year. "
Tannehill, who has the Dolphins at 5-5 with six games left in the season, said the Panthers don't play a complicated scheme but are effective nonetheless.
Carolina ranks third in the league in total defense.
"They're very good at what they do," Tannehill said. "They're not going to make mental mistakes, they're not going to leave anybody open, uncovered and they play fast."
Addison would likely get the starting nod for Carolina if Johnson can't play.
He has only started one game during his three-year NFL career, but has been the first defensive end off the bench in recent weeks.
Addison said he's ready for the challenge, but will approach this game a little differently if he's starting as opposed to coming off the bench.
"The price goes up, man," Addison said. "You have to get out there and give it 100 percent on every play."
He said there is added pressure filling in for Johnson, who received the biggest contract ever given out to a Panthers players in 2011.
"I have some big shoes to fill and I have to get out there and show these coaches what I've made of," said Addison, who also plays on most of Carolina's special teams units.
Hardy said his confidence in his teammates comes from being around Rivera.
"It's the way we've been taught and things have been installed in us over the last two of three years with coach Rivera — It's finally hitting home with everybody," Hardy said. "Everybody here is just buying in and the message is hitting home. Every single person on this team is performing like they need to."