CHARLOTTE – Earlier this month, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and wide receiver Kealoha Pilares appeared entrenched as the Panthers' return men.
Now, head coach Ron Rivera is excited about what he's seeing from a different pair – rookie wide receiver Joe Adams at punt return and wide receiver Armanti Edwards at kickoff return.
Adams reclaimed the duties from Munnerlyn for the first time since Week 3 early in last Sunday's game versus Tampa Bay and responded with returns of 16 and 11 yards. Edwards replaced an injured Pilares in a Week 9 victory at Washington and had returns of 27 and 23 yards against the Buccaneers.
"Joe was exciting," Rivera said. "I was real happy for him. He focused in on the ball, caught them well, made a couple of nice decisions. With a dynamic player like him, if he can make the first guy miss, he's got a chance. That's what we're looking for.
"Armanti is really relishing his role. The last couple of weeks, he's really hit it strong. If we can give him a little bit more of a crease, he may pop one."
Both figure to continue in their roles when the Panthers visit the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football, with Adams hoping to do his best impression of DeSean Jackson. The Eagles wide receiver had four punt returns for touchdowns from 2008-10 but struggled in 2011 and has just one attempt in 2012.
"I look up to DeSean. I've gotten to know him personally," Adams said. I've watched him and other returners to see what I can learn from them.
"I felt like I did well (against Tampa Bay). I was just glad to be back out there with the guys doing something to help out our offense."
With Adams active last week, wide receiver David Gettis was the odd man out. Gettis played for the first time in nearly two years the week before versus Denver.
"David is still getting his feet back under him," Rivera said. "We had him up before because Brandon LaFell wasn't playing and I wasn't convinced that Joe was ready. I may have put him out there a little too soon."
TOO SOON FOR BRIDGES? The Panthers aren't yet sure if offensive lineman Jeremy Bridges will be back up to speed in time for the Eagles game.
Bridges, signed on Nov. 14, hasn't played this season because of a thumb injury but has been competing with Jeff Byers and Garry Williams at right guard.
"I feel pretty good. I definitely can still get better, but that's what these next few days are for before we fly out to Philly," Bridges said. "I'm just maintaining my focus and working on the little things I need to work on to try to get ready to play. I'm very anxious because this is what I love to do. To be able to get in there and help, that's my goal."
NUMBER CHANGE: New kicker Graham Gano has switched from No. 4 to No. 9, turning in the number he wore for the Washington Redskins before being waived in the preseason for the number he wore when he kicked the game-winning field goal for the Las Vegas Locomotives in the inaugural United Football League championship game in 2009.
Practice squad wide receiver Jared Green had been wearing No. 9 but changed to No. 10.
"I wanted No. 9 in the first place, and then I found out Jared wanted to switch numbers anyway, so I went with it," Gano said.
The only Panthers player to wear No. 4 in a game is John Kasay, the team's kicker from 1995-2010 who ranks eighth in NFL history with 1,970 points.
"I'm glad he made that decision," Rivera said of Gano's number change. "John was a terrific player for this team and for this community. You don't want to create conversation and comparison. I think that was a smart move on his part."
END GAME: When Munnerlyn tied a franchise record against Tampa Bay with his second interception return for a touchdown of the season, he had one unlikely co-conspirator to thank.
With defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy temporarily out of action with injuries suffered on the same play, 310-pound defensive tackle Sione Fua lined up at defensive end for the first time in his NFL career.
"We all had to jump in there with what we had, so I was out there," Fua said. "I just came off the ball and rushed the passer, and luckily we were able to push the pocket and hit the quarterback and cause him to throw that pick to Captain.
"In practice on the scout team, I get a lot of D-end reps. On our D-line, everybody has the ability to line up anywhere. We all know how to play each position, so if something like that does happen, you can just jump right in and not lose a step."
INJURY UPDATE: Hardy missed practice Friday because of an illness.
"He looked green," Rivera said. "Could have been too much turkey."
Wide receiver Steve Smith returned after sitting out Thursday's practice with a finger injury suffered against Tampa Bay.
On the special teams front, safety Colin Jones practiced for the second consecutive day after being cleared through the league's concussion protocol, but linebacker Jordan Senn missed his second consecutive practice with an ankle injury.