Sports | August 3, 2021 2:33 pm

Carolina Panthers Immediately Cut Rookie J.T. Ibe for Training Camp Hit That Hospitalizes WR

Receiver Keith Kirkwood had to be put on a backboard and helped off the field to an ambulance

Keith Kirkwood of the Carolina Panthers suited up during training camp. The wide receiver was briefly hospitalized after a hit by rookie J.T. Ibe at training camp.
Keith Kirkwood of the Carolina Panthers at training camp.
Jared C. Tilton/Getty

Undrafted rookie cornerback J.T. Ibe was pulled off the Carolina Panthers practice field and immediately waived after delivering a blow at training camp to the head of Keith Kirkwood that sent the wide receiver to the hospital.

Hit high by Ibe, who played in college at Rice and South Carolina, while attempting to catch a tipped ball during Carolina’s first practice session of the season in pads, Kirkwood had to be put on a backboard and helped off the field to an ambulance. Kirkwood was able to move his arms and legs before he was taken off and head coach Matt Rhule said he did not have neck pain and that early signs were positive. Per ESPN, Kirkwood has already left the hospital and is in the care of team physicians after experiencing no issues with his spinal cord or neck.

“It’s completely unacceptable to do something like that,” Rhule said of the high hit. “There are bang-bang plays that will happen and guys will hit the ground, but you can’t tee off on somebody. That’s not what we do and that is undisciplined by us and can’t happen. I don’t want anyone to get hurt. I just recognize how much work guys put in, how important this time is for them. As a man, as a person, I don’t like seeing anyone laying there in pain.”

Following the incident, first-year Carolina quarterback Sam Darnold talked about the need for safety on the practice field.

“It’s a sad, sad part of the game and we have to do a better job of taking care of each other out here,” Darnold said. “It was a hard lesson that we learned today.”

In a statement issued via his agent, Ibe said he was glad to hear that Kirkwood is going to be alright and that he regrets going for the defenseless player’s head instead of just knocking out the ball.

Now a free agent once again, Ibe may have a tough time latching on with a new team. For Kirkwood, who broke his collarbone twice last year and only played in one game as a result, making an NFL final roster is also far from a given and this latest setback certainly won’t help.

A former undrafted free agent himself, Kirkwood is entering his fourth NFL season. Already 26, Kirkwood caught 13 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns with the Saints in 2018.

Good luck to him in his recovery and efforts to make the team as a depth piece on offense.