CHARLOTTE — The Panthers are going to promote from within to fill the vacant punt return job this week.
Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said that practice squad receiver Alex Erickson would be elevated for the week and handle punt returns Sunday against the Jets.
"It'll be Erickson," Rhule said. "He's got a long history of doing it. Did it in the preseason the last couple of years. Has an NFL touchdown returning punts.
"He's done a good job in practice, is smart, can back us up at a couple of positions. He's a guy we have a lot of confidence in."
Rhule has referenced that touchdown a couple of times, even though it wasn't in the regular season. Erickson returned a punt 75 yards for a score against Washington in the 2019 preseason.
He's done the job well for the Bengals, averaging 10.1 yards per return last year. The Panthers only had 117 punt return yards as a team in 2020, so the bar is reasonably low.
The Panthers still have wide receiver DJ Moore as a possibility, though that's obviously an in-case-of-emergency situation.
By rule, teams can elevate two players from the practice squad a week, and return them to the practice squad without moving them through waivers.
It just means they have a 54-man roster for the week, and will have to make eight players inactive instead of seven to get to the 46-man active limit.
— Rhule also expressed confidence in kicker Ryan Santoso, who from a practical standpoint, has one week to earn his job.
The Panthers gave the Giants a conditional seventh-rounder for Santoso, and the condition is that he's on the roster for two regular-season games. So if he didn't play well, they could move on this week at no cost, but Rhule wasn't thinking that way.
Seeing veteran kicker Greg Zuerlein miss two field goals and an extra point for the Cowboys Thursday night was also a reminder that perfect accuracy isn't something you can assume.
"I wouldn't say that," Rhule replied when asked if Santoso was on a one-week tryout.
"You understand the terms," he continued. "I just want a guy to put it through the pipes. You saw last night, I don't expect anyone to be perfect, but I love Ryan's approach, his demeanor, his mental outlook. I know he's got a big leg, and the one time we put him out there for us he made the kicks.
"I'm expecting him to go out and kick well on Sunday. He gives us tremendous range out there, so I'm hoping he does a great job moving forward and can be our kicker."
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