CHARLOTTE – The Panthers entered Monday night's game relatively healthy and believed they exited the game in similar shape, but injuries have cropped up that could again lead to a reshuffling of the offensive line.
Head coach Ron Rivera said after Wednesday's practice that he was most concerned about a knee injury suffered by left guard Amini Silatolu following a three-game absence for a calf injury. Neither Silatolu nor right tackle Nate Chandler (foot) practiced Wednesday.
If either misses Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons, the Panthers would have to start a different offensive line for the sixth consecutive game.
"The biggest concern is going to be Amini. His knee swelled up on him pretty good, so we sent him for an MRI," Rivera said.
The MRI revealed no structural damage, but the fact that the injury was concerning enough to call for an MRI puts Silatolu's status for Sunday in serious doubt.
Rivera also described Chandler's injury as "pretty bad," but after practice Chandler said, "I can't wait to hit the field Sunday."
Despite the potential setbacks, Rivera was upbeat about the Panthers' options if Silatolu or Chandler can't play, especially with guard Trai Turner returning to practice for the first time since suffering knee and ankle injuries against the Green Bay Packers in a Week 7. Rivera said Turner would start at right guard if available, and Andrew Norwell would move from right to left guard if Silatolu can't play.
"It was good to see him out there," Rivera said of Turner. "He ran out of gas a little bit. We'll need to condition a little bit more with him.
"Knowing his conditioning, we would rotate through. You don't want to put someone out there for 60 plays and lose him again. We have to be smart."
If Chandler can't play, Rivera is leaning toward using guard Chris Scott at right tackle. Scott started eight games at guard for the Panthers last season but started 31 games at left tackle at the University of Tennessee. He was released by Carolina in the final roster cutdown but joined the practice squad Oct. 14 and was promoted to the active roster Oct. 21.
Rivera said Scott was prepared to serve as the Panthers' backup tackle Monday against the Eagles, though he didn't see any action.
"That's why he was up last week as opposed to (David) Foucault," Rivera said. "He's done a nice job. His weight is down – he's controlling that very nicely – his conditioning is up, and he's focused.
"Sometimes when a guy comes back, he's a different kind of guy. He's been that guy. He's worked very hard. I'm very pleased with the effort he's given, and we're getting to the point where if we were in that situation, we'd give him a shot."
Cornerback Bene Benwikere returned to practice Wednesday for the first time since suffering a high ankle sprain against the Chicago Bears in Week 5 but was limited.
"It was good to see him out there," Rivera said. "It's going to be about how he feels tomorrow and if we can increase the load. We'll see how that goes day by day."
As expected, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei – initially believed to be the only player to suffer a significant injury at Philadelphia - did not practice. Lotulelei received good MRI results on his injured ankle Tuesday but Rivera labeled him "doubtful" for this week.
Running back DeAngelo Williams (foot) and wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (hamstring) also didn't practice, but Rivera didn't seem overly concerned. Same goes for running back Jonathan Stewart (ankle), who was limited in practice.
"DeAngelo got his foot jammed a little bit. He's sore, but he's walking around and moving around," Rivera said. "Once he gets the soreness down and the swelling down, he should be fine.
"Jonathan kind of had the same situation as DeAngelo. Somebody fell on his foot during a tackle. His wasn't as bad as DeAngelo's. He did a nice job of working through it."