CHARLOTTE – Head coach Ron Rivera is confident in his contingency plan at defensive tackle for Sunday's opener at the Jacksonville Jaguars.
He also sounds fairly confident that the Panthers won't need to resort to a contingency plan at other positions recently impacted by injuries.
Rivera said that if defensive tackle Star Lotulelei isn't able to return in time from a stress reaction in his foot that has sidelined him for more than a month, then veteran Kyle Love would join third-year standout Kawann Short in the starting lineup, with plenty of help from vets Dwan Edwards and Colin Cole.
"It will be KK and Kyle Love," Rivera said. "Kyle Love had a really good preseason. I would start Dwan, but I don't want him getting too many reps because when it's crunch time, Dwan steps up.
"Colin Cole is always ready to pick up where he left off. I feel good about those four guys."
Wednesday, the first official injury report of the 2015 season listed Lotulelei and tight end Richie Brockel (shoulder) – whom Rivera said should be back in the "very, very near future" – as out of practice. Both were in attendance, however, getting in work on the side.
"Star didn't participate in practice, but he worked out on the side with the trainers, doing the things that he needed to do as far as working on the foot strength and conditioning," Rivera said. "They're really putting a lot of stress on it just to see how he reacts to it."
Rivera said if Lotulelei, the Panthers' first-round draft choice in 2013, is able to play Sunday, the team would watch his snap count carefully. Either way, they're fortunate to have someone like Love, who wasn't on an NFL roster last season before signing with the Panthers late and playing when Lotulelei missed the NFC Divisional Playoff with an injury to the same foot.
"This is a great group of guys, one of the best groups I've been a part of," said Love, a consistent contributor for the New England Patriots from 2010-2012. "I'm just happy to be a part of this organization and to get to keep playing football.
"I was with two teams after the New England Patriots and played some of my best football but didn't get the call at the end of the day. The only thing you can control is playing your best football. I've just worked hard. I always give a good effort."
Signs seem stronger along the offensive line and in the secondary that the regular starters will be in action Sunday. Center Ryan Kalil (knee) and cornerback Josh Norman (head) were limited in practice but got a positive report from Rivera, while cornerbacks Charles Tillman (head) and Teddy Williams (groin) were full participants. Tillman, expected to start opposite Norman, wasn't even on the injury report because he's already out of the concussion protocol, and Norman has only one more hurdle to clear.
"Ryan took the reps that he was scheduled to take today, and Josh went out and did everything he was supposed to without any contact," Rivera said. "Teddy Williams had no issues."
While the Panthers feel good about Kalil's prospects, they did sign rookie center Shane McDermott to the practice squad Wednesday, terminating cornerback Carrington Byndom to make room. Brian Folkerts, the backup center the last two seasons, suffered an ankle injury in the preseason and was waived.
"We were looking for centers, and there was an opportunity to grab Shane," Rivera said. "He was with Dallas in the preseason and looked really good. He's a young man we watched coming out of the University of Miami. We're intrigued by him, and with Kalil's situation right now, we wanted to bring a guy in and take a nice, long look at him."
Reserve offensive tackle Nate Chandler (knee) was limited Wednesday and "struggled a little bit" according to Rivera.
View photos from the Panthers' week of practice leading up to their game at the Jaguars.