Dan Connor and the Panthers defense hopes to get off the field a little more Thursday night. (AP Photo)
CHARLOTTE – Last month Dan Connor wasn’t even sure if he’d be with the Carolina Panthers this season.
Now there’s a chance he might start the regular season opener at middle linebacker.
With three-time Pro Bowl selection Jon Beason still on the non-football injury list because of Achilles tendinitis, Connor has been working with the first team, preparing to start just in case Beason isn’t ready to get on the field for the Sept. 11 regular season opener against Arizona.
Connor may not be a Pro Bowl player like Beason, but he’s a more than adequate backup who earned a measure of respect with some solid play last year prior to breaking a bone in his hip. He needed four screws and a two-inch metal plate to repair the damage, but said he’s fine now.
Connor has played so well, in fact, several teams have inquired about his services over the past two seasons.
Each time the team has refused.
Connor was never closer to being traded than the day before camp when the Panthers were negotiating with the Chicago Bears for tight end Greg Olsen. Connor’s name was involved in trade talks, but the Panthers wound up sending a third-round draft pick instead.
They’re probably glad they did given the extent of Beason’s injury.
“I heard (the deal) had been done, but I think a lot of it was speculation,” Connor said. “It’s hard to say. There were so many rumors and we weren’t even in camp yet so I didn’t have much communication with anybody. But it was a hectic night.”
Connor said he’s happy with how it worked out, even though it means returning to a backup role when Beason returns.
“It’s never ideal,” Connor said. “You come to the NFL to play. When you get into a situation like this it’s tough. I mean I love playing here and I love the staff, and I’m still under contract. That’s kind of how it goes. I knew right off the bat when they already had Jon that it was going to be a bit of a grind.”
Connor said he’s preparing the same way he always has.
“I’ve had a lot of chances to work with the ones and that’s obviously a role I had last year,” Connor said. “You’re always prepared like you’re always going to be a starter.”
BENGALS STRUGGLING ON OFFENSE: The Panthers should have an easier time getting off the field Thursday night against a young Cincinnati offense that has struggled under rookie quarterback Andy Dalton. Quarterback Carson Palmer refuses to play again unless the Bengals decide to trade him.
“The one thing I don't want our defense to do is get overconfident and feel that because this is a new offense they are going to be struggling, which they have,” Rivera said. “But they're like us; they're in a growing situation. What you don't want to do is come in and assume anything.
“The biggest difference is it is a new offense, and we only have two bits of tape to watch off of it in terms of their preseason games. But we'll work off of that. We are definitely treating this like a regular season week and, hopefully, we can gain some experience out of it.”
OTAH DOES A LITTLE MORE: RT Jeff Otah did a little more in practice, although he was far from full speed. Otah didn’t wear shoulder pads like his teammates, and didn’t participate in team drills while continuing to rehab from swelling in his knee.
Still, Rivera is pleased with Otah’s progress.
“Jeff is coming along big time, and he's made some big strides the last couple of days working with our training and strength and conditioning staffs,” Rivera said. “I'm real happy with his progress. It's just a matter of time with Jeff.
STILL WAITING: Beason, RB Mike Goodson (Achilles), FB Tony Fiammetta (concussion) and OG Geoff Schwartz were among those held out of practice Monday.
DE Greg Hardy left practice early, but that was pre-planned.
“Yesterday was the first extended bit of work he'd had; he still has some soreness with the injury,” Rivera said. “From Sunday, it (foot) was kind of sore putting it in the shoe, so after he got his work in, then we cut him out on purpose and we sent him in to get iced down and treated.”