WR Kealoha Pilares injured his ankle Tuesday in practice, jeopardizing his chances of making the opening day roster. (AP Photo)
CHARLOTTE – Rookie wide receiver Kealoha Pilares had turned a lot of heads in training camp with the Carolina Panthers but a high ankle sprain could potentially cost the fifth-round draft pick from Hawaii a spot on the 53-man roster.
The Panthers must make 27 roster moves by Saturday night to comply with NFL rules.
Pilares, the team’s fifth-round pick from Hawaii, was carted off the field late in Tuesday’s practice and coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday it was a high ankle sprain, which is not good news. If most cases a high ankle sprain is considered a four-to-six week injury and the Panthers may not be willing to hold a roster spot for an unproven rookie and decide to put him on injured reserve and use this basically as a redshirt season.
“We're a little concerned about it and we'll see how he feels later today and tomorrow morning,” Rivera said.
The Panthers had hoped to use Pilares some as a slot receiver, but also line him up out wide.
Pilares is the latest rookie to be hit by the injury bug.
Seventh-round draft pick Zack Williams, a guard from Washington, went on injured reserve Tuesday after tearing an ACL in his knee in training camp while fourth-round draft pick Brandon Hogan, a cornerback from West Virginia, has not been able to make it back on the practice field since tearing his ACL back in December prior to the Mountaineers’ bowl game. Hogan would be eligible for the PUP list to start the season since he hasn't practiced yet with the club.
Pilares’ injury, if serious, could opens things up at receiver.
You have to figure Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards are locks while Legedu Naanee has a good chance to make the roster and probably even start if the team doesn’t bring another receiver in to challenge for the No. 2 spot.
If things stay status quo, Wallace Wright, Charly Martin and David Clowney could be battling for one or two roster spots, depending on if the Panthers keep five or six wide receivers.
STARTERS OUT EARLY: Rivera said the starters will play about a series or two against Pittsburgh Thursday night. He’s eager to take a look at the young receivers on the roster as well as the defensive line and the secondary.
“We would like to see things obviously function where things are going well; we're communicating; we're doing the things that we're supposed to,” Rivera said. “That's probably the biggest thing that we want to take from it. I'm not concerned about the outcome obviously; I'm concerned about the way we play more so than anything else. With that first bunch, I want to see good communication, good operations and then get them off the field.”
When asked what positions he’s most interested in evaluating against the Steelers, Rivera pointed to the defensive line and the wide receivers.
“Our young wide receivers, I like what I've seen in camp,” Rivera said. “Now I'd like to see them in a little bit more extended game situation where they get to play a few more (snaps).”
WHO IS OUT: Starting LB Jon Beason, SS Sherrod Martin and FB Tony Fiammetta are out this week, but RT Jeff Otah and DE Greg Hardy will see their first action of the preseason, Rivera said.
DT Andre Neblett (concussion) will not play against Pittsburgh.
LINEUP CHANGE: Last year’s starting RT Garry Williams will run with the first-team offense at right guard Thursday night with Geoff Schwartz (hip) out for the season. Schwartz will need surgery on his hip.
RIVERA LIKES BACKS: Rivera hasn't been asked much about the team’s stable of running backs, but to no surprise he’s excited about that group entering the season.
“We think it's a pretty formidable group,” he said. “We've got a bunch of guys that can carry the ball; we've got guys that understand the passing game; and they're learning our (pass) protections. So that's probably the best thing that we've got going as far as that group. It's a quality group. I do like our top two guys DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. If you mix in our younger guys back there, I think we have guys that can step in and make plays.”
PANTHERS SEASON-ENDING INJURIES:
*WR David Gettis (torn ACL): Gettis, who started 15 games last season, was expected to compete for the No. 2 receiver spot this year but tore up his knee at at training camp and was placed on injured reserve.
*OG Geoff Schwartz (hip/torn labrum): Schwartz started all 16 games last season, some at right tackle and some at right guard and was projected to be the starting right guard this year but is done for the year.
*DT Ron Edwards (torn triceps): He was expected to start at nose tackle, but tore his triceps in his first practice. Now he's relagated to a role of mentor to the young defensive linemen on the roster.
*TE Gary Barnidge (broken foot): Sure, he was fourth on the depth chart but was expected to make the roster and contribute in the passing game before a broken ankle sidelined him for the season.
*OL Zack Williams (torn ACL): The Panthers late-round draft pick is done for the season after injuring his knee in training camp.
*CB Cletis Gordon (shoulder injury): He was a hopeful for a backup spot at corner, but separated his shoulder and is done for the season.
*QB Tony Pike (elbow): Pike never could get on the field and had surgery on his elbow to relieve nerve damage. The Panthers reached an injury settlement with him.