CHARLOTTE – Safety Haruki Nakamura, the only member of the Panthers' secondary to start all 13 games this season, has been placed on injured reserve with a groin injury suffered in Sunday's victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
Nakamura is the fourth full-time defensive starter to go on IR, joining linebacker Jon Beason, cornerback Chris Gamble and defensive tackle Ron Edwards. He sustained the injury while trying to make a touchdown-saving tackle of Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones in the fourth quarter.
Carolina filled Nakamura's roster spot by signing safety Anderson Russell from the practice squad and added defensive back Kamaal McIlwain to take Russell's place on the practice squad.
Nakamura, who won the starting free safety job in his first season with the Panthers, is tied for the team lead with two interceptions and ranks seventh on the team with 52 tackles.
Sherrod Martin, who had been sharing time with Nakamura, was placed on IR last week with a knee injury, and starting strong safety Charles Godfrey missed the Falcons game with a back injury. That left rookie D.J. Campbell and special teams standout Colin Jones as the Panthers' only healthy safeties once Nakamura exited.
The Panthers signed Russell to the practice squad Dec. 6. The Ohio State product played two games for the Washington Redskins as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2010 and appeared in three games for the Miami Dolphins earlier this season after spending the 2011 season on the Dolphins' practice squad.
McIlwain is a South Carolina native who played at Newberry College and Indian Land High School. The 5-10, 175-pounder spent most of his rookie season in 2011 on the New Orleans Saints practice squad but was waived by the Saints during the preseason this year.
Additionally, the Panthers waived offensive tackle Lee Ziemba off injured reserve. Ziemba, a seventh-round draft pick out of Auburn, tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee during training camp. He played in six games as a rookie in 2011.
Including three players who have been waived off injured reserve this season, the Panthers have placed 16 players on IR this season after having a team-record 18 players on injured reserve in 2011.