CHARLOTTE – With safety Quintin Mikell dealing with an ankle injury, undrafted rookie Robert Lester is in line to start his first NFL game at strong safety just days after coming off the practice squad.
"We think Robert Lester is a young man that's got an opportunity," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He's the next best available for us."
Lester is practicing alongside fifth-year veteran Mike Mitchell, who is moving from strong to free safety and is set for his first start as a Panther. Rivera noticed Mitchell "raise his level" at practice on Wednesday with Lester being thrust into the first-team defense.
"Whenever you have to put a young player out there or a player that doesn't play a lot, you do expect the other guys around to raise their level," Rivera said. "And that's kind of what happened today. Mike Mitchell is the senior defensive back out there right now, and he communicated the whole day. He did the things you hope a veteran guy would do.
"The hard thing is we are going to move him from strong to free. We'll see how it unfolds. It was good to see him take the lead like he did. This may be one of those things where a guy gets an opportunity, the door is cracked a little bit, and he steps all the way in. I've got a lot of faith that he's going to get it done."
And Mitchell is focused on getting it done as soon as possible, with the Panthers already in an 0-2 hole to start the season.
"There's no doubt about it. We've got to win," Mitchell said. "Every game is like that, but especially going into this game we've got to get the ship right and we've got to get it right now."
INJURY UPDATE: Mikell was one of nine Panthers who did not practice on Wednesday.
The others were defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (thigh), cornerback Josh Norman (thigh), cornerback Josh Thomas (concussion), cornerback D.J. Moore (knee), running back Kenjon Barner (foot), tight end Ben Hartsock (foot), fullback Mike Tolbert (knee) and linebacker Thomas Davis (leg).
Rivera said Tolbert, Davis and Hartsock were held out for rest. He said he is a "little concerned" about Edwards, played the first two games despite the injury.
Cornerback James Dockery (thumb) – who has yet to play this season – practiced briefly before leaving early.
"We've got four defensive backs on the injury report. So, obviously, there is concern," Rivera said. "We've got some young guys that are going to have to take some reps and get ready to play. Hopefully, we can get these guys back on the practice field by tomorrow or Friday, get them geared up and in tune with what we want to do as far as the game plan.
"But there is concern. I'm not going to kid you about that."
PANTHERS ADD CORNERS: The Panthers have signed cornerbacks De'Andre Presley and Greg Gatson to their practice squad.
Carolina had one spot on the eight-man unit after signing safety Robert Lester to the 53-man roster and created another spot by terminating wide receiver James Shaw.
Presley was a quarterback in college, taking over the role from Armanti Edwards at Appalachian State. While Edwards switched to wide receiver with the Panthers, Presley moved to corner as an undrafted rookie last season with the San Diego Chargers before being waived in the final roster cutdown. He went on to appear in four games for the Miami Dolphins last year before being waived in the final roster cutdown this year.
Gatson played in two games for the Chargers as an undrafted rookie out of Arkansas in 2012 and was on their practice squad for 13 games. He was waived in San Diego's final roster cutdown this year.