CHARLOTTE - For the third time in less than two years, the Panthers have placed right tackle Jeff Otah on injured reserve with a left knee injury.
Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said Wednesday the team made the decision with Otah's future in mind, hoping he can now fully recover from an injury that has slowed him for nearly two years.
"Since training camp, he's been working hard to strengthen that left knee that kept him out last year. He's worked hard, but he's just never been able to get over the hump," Hurney said. "He's also had concurrent issue, listed as questionable the last two weeks with a back injury.
"We met with Jeff over the last couple of days and decided that the best thing to do was put him on IR so he could concentrate on strengthening the knee, essentially taking an 11-week loss for a long-term gain."
The Panthers filled Otah's roster spot by re-signing offensive tackle Reggie Wells, a nine-year NFL veteran who spent a week with the team earlier this season.
Carolina is expected to turn to undrafted rookie free agent Byron Bell to take Otah's place in the starting lineup. Bell already has started the two games that Otah missed, including last Sunday's loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
"I thought Byron played really well," head coach Ron Rivera said after the Atlanta game. "He's going to continue to get better for us."
Otah originally injured the knee in a Dec. 13, 2009, game at the New England Patriots. He spent the final three games on injured reserve but hoped to be back in time for the beginning of the 2010 season. The Panthers also held out hope for much of season, but the team finally put him on injured reserve on Nov. 9, 2010, after he was inactive for the first eight games.
This season, Otah returned to action in the Panthers' final preseason game and started the season opener, but Bell replaced Otah for a couple of series in three of the four games in which Otah played while he worked his way back into playing condition.
"I'm not a doctor, but there's no recipe for how long it takes for someone to come back from an injury, especially a knee injury to a person of Jeff's size," Hurney said of the 6-6, 330-pounder. "Every individual and every injury is different, so it's difficult to go into length of time. All we know is that when we hit training camp, he worked very hard.
"Now unfortunately we didn't have the offseason with him in here because of the lockout, but when we got to training camp we had a plan, and he worked hard with (strength and conditioning coach) Joe Kenn to strengthen the knee. He played in some games, but he never got over the hump. That's what we're looking to do by letting him concentrate on the knee and take him away from the pounding of practice and games."
Hurney said that Otah, the 19th overall pick in the 2008 draft, took the decision hard.
"Obviously, he was very disappointed," Hurney said. "Jeff is a competitor. He wants to be on the field. He understands it, but he wants to play. That's every player."