MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Carolina Panthers tight end Gary Barnidge was having a good preseason but now it appears his season is in jeopardy.
Barnidge fractured a bone in his ankle but suffered no ligament damage in Thursday's non-padded practice, according to coach Ron Rivera. Rivera initially said there was no timetable for his return, but a team source confirmed Barnidge will be out "at least 12 weeks."
That would put his earliest possible return around mid-November, which is the second half of the NFL regular season.
So the Panthers will now have to decide whether to put Barnidge on injured reserve, thus ending his season. The team can't put him on the PUP list because he practiced at the start of training camp.
PANTHERS HAVE 16 OUT: The Panthers were without 16 players due to injury Friday night against the Miami Dolphins, including wide receiver Steve Smith (finger) and running backs Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson, both of whom sat out with sore Achilles. Among the others sitting out on offense were fullback Tony Fiammetta (neck), guard Geoff Schwartz (hip), right tackle Jeff Otah (knee) and Barnidge.
Defensively the Panthers were without linebackers Jon Beason (Achilles), cornerback Chris Gamble (groin) and defensive end Greg Hardy (foot).
Garry Williams started for Otah, Mackenzy Bernadeau for Schwartz, Greg Olsen for Fiammetta in the two-tight end set and Brandon LaFell for Smith. Dan Connor started for Beason and R.J. Stanford for Gamble.
The good news for the Panthers is they’re expected to get Beason and Gamble back next week.
SMITH NEEDED: Cam Newton said he's anxious to get Smith back on the field.
"Everybody knows that Steve Smith is a playmaker and his presence is needed out there," Rivera said. "I think we still have some young receivers out there that are capable of making big plays. We can't have that as a crutch as to why we're not winning game because with our without Steve we didn't play to the best of our abilities today. Of course he's going to make a big impact when he comes back but we have to take care of what we have to do."
Smith said he didn't play because he just got his stitches out.
STRUGGLES ON THIRD DOWN: The Panthers were 1-for-13 on third-down conversions in the preseason opener against the Giants and failed to convert their first seven opportunities on Friday night.
STANFORD STRUGGLES: Stanford really struggled in the early going covering Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who found his way open on nearly ever play from scrimmage and caught five passes for 46 yards.
Stanford’s backup Robert McClain didn’t do much better.
The Panthers are expected to add another cornerback to the roster after other teams make their final cuts Sept. 3, but Friday night emphasized just how important it is to keep Gamble on the field. Gamble, who said he’ll cover the opposition’s top wide receiver on most plays this season, was bothered early in camp by an illness and a hamstring problem. He returned to the field briefly last week, but then injured his groin.
GUY GETS SOME ACTION: With Goodson out, Trent Guy saw action as the primary kick returner and provided one of the few highlights for the Panthers on a 34-yard return.
BUSH SEES EXTENSIVE ACTION: The Dolphins obviously plan to make Reggie Bush an important part of their offense. He carried eight times for 53 yards and caught two passes for 33 yards in the first half of Friday night’s game.
DAVIS MAKES RETURN: Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis finished with four tackles in his first action since tearing his ACL in the knee in November of 2009. Davis has missed the last 24 regular season games but displayed good speed and quickness against the Dolphins.