The Panthers almost got through the final week of the season without placing another player on injured reserve.
But with injuries hampering the defensive line, Carolina placed wide receiver Legedu Naanee on injured reserve to create a roster spot for defensive tackle DeMario Pressley, who was signed from the team's practice squad on Friday.
Injuries to defensive end Charles Johnson and defensive tackle Andre Neblett have left the Panthers thin along the defensive front. Johnson is doubtful for the season finale at New Orleans on Sunday with a back injury, and Neblett is out with a concussion.
Head coach Ron Rivera said Johnson "is still stiff as ever" and Neblett "didn't do very well" on his baseline concussion protocol tests. Johnson initially injured his back at Houston two weeks ago and saw limited action versus Tampa Bay last week. Neblett suffered a concussion when he collided with Johnson in the third quarter of the game.
"We need the bodies. If we didn't activate DeMario, we'd only be at three defensive tackles this week, so that's a concern," Rivera said. "So we'll end up starting a whole different group of defensive players again."
Rivera said Ogemdi Nwagbuo will start at defensive tackle in place of Neblett, and Antwan Applewhite will start at defensive end if Johnson is unable to play. Both players should be able to easily transition into increased roles in Rivera's defensive system, having played for him when he served as the San Diego Chargers' defensive coordinator from 2008-10.
Nwagbuo has appeared in three games and recorded two tackles since being signed as a free agent by the Panthers on Dec. 7. This will mark his sixth career start. Nwagbuo previously opened five games for San Diego in 2009.
Applewhite has lined up at defensive end, defensive tackle and linebacker in 11 games after being signed as a free agent on Oct. 5. He has posted 19 tackles, two sacks, four quarterback pressures and one forced fumble in addition to tackling quarterback Matt Ryan in the end zone for a safety versus Atlanta in Week 14.
Pressley will return to New Orleans, who drafted him in the fifth round from North Carolina State in 2008. He spent his rookie campaign on injured reserve before playing in seven games and collecting 25 tackles during the Saints' Super Bowl XLIV championship season. Pressley split 2010 between New Orleans' practice squad and Houston's active roster. Waived in the final roster cutdown by Denver this year, he was signed to Carolina's practice squad on Dec. 7.
Naanee becomes the team-record 18th player placed on injured reserve this season. He suffered a broken left foot while fighting for extra yardage near the goal line against the Buccaneers and had surgery on Friday. Naanee finished the season with a career-high 44 receptions for 467 yards and one touchdown.
In other injury news, safety Jordan Pugh is out, but safety Charles Godfrey will return to the lineup against the Saints. Pugh is still suffering from the effects of a head injury sustained at Houston that prevented him from playing versus Tampa Bay. Godfrey was inactive last week with a shoulder injury.