- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A knee sprain suffered on an illegal play in Monday night's victory over New England will keep defensive end Charles Johnson out of Sunday's game at Miami, Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Friday.
It will be the first time Johnson has missed a game since the 2011 finale, when he had a back injury. Rivera hopes his sacks leader (8.5) will be back the following Sunday against Tampa Bay. The Panthers have won six straight and seven of its past eight to improve to 7-3.
"We're going to see,'' he said. "It's one of those things where you want to get him back as fast as you can. At the same time, you don't want to get him back when he's halfway back.''
Johnson's right knee was injured when he was leg-whipped by Patriots tackle Marcus Cannon in the third quarter of the 24-20 win at Bank of America Stadium. He has not practiced all week. Cannon was fined $15,750 for the play.
"It's very frustrating,'' said Rivera, a former linebacker who was injured on a leg whip when he played for Chicago. "You're going into a game where you lose a guy on something that is an illegal play, yeah, it's tough. It's frustrating.''
The league's third-ranked defense has given up 1.5 yards more per play when Johnson is not on the field this season. Rivera is undecided on who will start in his place, but said Mario Addison, Frank Alexander and Wes Horton all will be rotated into the lineup to take advantage of individual strengths.
"We have three guys who are working and have had good practices,'' Rivera said. "It will probably be by committee.''
Outside linebacker Chase Blackburn (foot), tight end Ben Hartsock (knee) and guard Chris Scott (knee) also won't play against Miami. Hartsock and Scott, dealing with the same type of injury Johnson has, will miss their second straight game.
Defensive end Greg Hardy returned to full practice after missing Thursday's workout nursing a sore knee.