CHARLOTTE – Head coach Ron Rivera got some positive news Tuesday regarding the health of his defensive and offensive lines.
Now Rivera must figure out how to get the units, particularly the offensive front, to produce positive results.
An MRI came back negative on defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who suffered a right ankle injury in the third quarter of Monday's loss to the Philadelphia Eagles that resulted in him being carted off the field.
Rivera is not confident about Lotulelei's availability for Sunday's home game against the Atlanta Falcons but referenced the bye week that will follow as well-timed for the prospects of Lotulelei returning soon.
"It's not a high ankle sprain, which is good thing," Rivera said. "The way it was explained to me was that it was kind of like one you would get on a basketball court.
"He's a big guy, and big guys tend to be a little bit slower on ankle sprains, but this is a low ankle sprain as opposed to the high ones, which are the worst ones."
Rivera also said that defensive end Charles Johnson should be fine after suffering an elbow injury in the first quarter. Johnson did to return to action.
"He hyperextended it," Rivera said. "They put a brace on it. Halfway through the game, he didn't like the brace so they took it off and he finished it off with a sleeve.
"It's just sore, but he should be fine. Plus, he loves playing Atlanta."
The Panthers should have guard Trai Turner and cornerback Bene Benwikere – a key cog in the defense's nickel package – back on the practice field when preparations for the Falcons begin Wednesday. Turner has missed the last three games with knee and ankle injuries, while Benwikere has missed the last five with an injured ankle.
"Bene should be on the practice field tomorrow, and we'll have an opportunity to see how he is," Rivera said. "We've got our fingers crossed. It would be nice to have him back on the field.
"Trai as well should be on the practice field, and we should get an opportunity to see how he is."
Rivera's look at the offensive line will extend beyond Turner's health. The Panthers tied a dubious franchise record by yielding nine sacks to the Eagles.
"We'll have the opportunity to pick the best five to start for us this week," Rivera said. "We're going to evaluate this week and not just that position but all positions."
The offensive line that started at Philadelphia was a new combination for Carolina (their sixth in 10 games): Byron Bell at left tackle, Amini Silatolu at left guard, Ryan Kalil at center, Andrew Norwell at right guard and Nate Chandler at right tackle.
The first six games featured Bell, Silatolu, Kalil and Chandler in the starting lineup with Turner and Fernando Velasco essentially serving as co-starters at right guard. Since then, injuries to Turner, Silatolu and Bell have forced the Panthers to use different combinations every week.
Norwell, an undrafted rookie from Ohio State, emerged during the topsy-turvy period but played with all of the Week 1 starters for the first time Monday.
"You'd like to see these guys get an opportunity to play more than one game together," said Rivera, though he added that the need for better play means he'll consider all options. "(Eagles) Coach (Chip) Kelly and I got a chance to talk before the game about how his whole group was able to play together all 17 games last season. That would be a pretty neat thing.
"You'd like to have that, but you don't. And when you don't, guys have to come in and be able to pick up the slack and work together."