CHARLOTTE -- Sometime soon -- in the next few weeks, he hopes -- Maake Kemoeatu will get down to the business of rehabilitation work.
For now, he's just trying to maintain his weight, which he says hasn't changed since before he tore his Achilles tendon and now hovers around 365-368 pounds -- "give or take," he adds with a smile. That's a difficult task for a man who's on crutches, can't work out, can't put weight on his right foot and admits he's fighting family history.
"It is tough not working out. All I can do is watch what I eat. I come from a family where we get big. The older we get, the bigger we get," Kemoeatu said. "But in the world of sports, I have to keep my weight down and be in the best shape I can to help my team win."
Eventually, Kemoeatu wants to use his rehabilitation to work his way into optimal shape for the 2010 season, saying that he wants to shed 35-45 pounds before he returns.
"Even if I was not playing football, it would be a good thing to get some of this weight off. I figure if I come back at 330, 320 (pounds), that's the range I'm shooting to come back on," he said. "I'll be the most effective strength-, speed- and endurance-wise."
This goal adds another dimension to his forthcoming rehabilitation, which will see him work regularly with the Panthers' training staff as soon as he can shed his crutches -- something he figures will happen in three weeks.
"I'm working with a nutritionist just to make sure I eat the right foods," Kemoeatu said. "I tell myself that the more I eat, the more I've got to get off. More vegetables and fruits. With not working out, I don't burn as much food, so I don't need that much to eat.
"Stay away from the steakhouses. Business went down for Ruth's Chris and Del Frisco's. I can't eat over there anymore. I'm not going to eat over there until probably 2011."
Every word is delivered with a smile and an easy laugh, neither of which has left Kemoeatu since his season ended in the first moments of training camp, forcing the Panthers to shuffle their defensive tackles -- and then shuffle again after his eventual replacement,
"I don't know what happened, man. I went down and the next person went down and another person went down, and before you know it, we're three or four guys down," said Kemoeatu. "But hopefully (Hollis) Thomas gets to hold up. He's been in the league a long time; he's a veteran player; he knows what he's getting himself into. Hopefully he'll be the backbone of that defense to help (Jon) Beason and T.D. (
For now, all he can do is watch and offer moral support. He remains a presence in the Bank of America Stadium locker room, watches practice when he get the opportunity and said Thursday that he sends text messages to sideline personnel during road games.
"That's the most I can do when the game is going on, watch for things, (see) when they're getting double-teamed, when the guards are coming off and chipping off the nose guard's hip, little things like that," Kemoeatu said. "I try to call or text the coach and do whatever I can to help out. That's all I can do for now -- other than sit around the locker room, joke around and try to cheer everyone up."
Soon he expects to do more than that -- beginning in the weight room.
"As soon as I get my Achilles to a point where I can stretch it without the cut opening up again, I can work out," Kemoeatu said. "I'm sure those guys can't weight to get me in the weight room and trim some of this fat off."
Neither can he.
HARRIS ON THE MEND: By his words alone, safety
"I feel good, let me put it that way," he said with a grin. "I'm leaning that way ... I'm getting out there, getting comfortable. It still bothers me a little bit, but I feel a lot better."
Harris plans to wear a knee brace during the game, but noted that it shouldn't have much of an effect on his mobility.
"It's more for stability," Harris said.
Harris' injury did more than remove one of 11 starting defenders from the lineup; it took out half of the on-field defensive signal-calling tandem.
"(Jon) Beason is our quarterback, being our middle linebacker. I'm kind of like his extra set of eyes in the secondary, making sure everybody gets the right checks and warning guys what could happen when (offensive players) get in motion," Harris said. "Beason sometimes might not see everything, and I'm further back off the line (of scrimmage), so I can see things he might not be able to see."
If Harris can play Sunday, the Panthers' defense will be back to the 20/20 vision it planned to have.
"It's been very hard to sit and just watch," Harris said. "It's just been tough for me mentally."
SPLIT SECONDS: Running back