CHARLOTTE – Head coach Ron Rivera said "it's looking bleak" for wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery's prospects of being ready to play Sunday, but Rivera is far from pessimistic about what the remaining receivers can accomplish without the veteran.
Cotchery suffered a high ankle sprain in last Sunday's home opener and hasn't practiced this week. Rivera was asked if Cotchery's expected absence would force the Panthers to make a roster move in advance of Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints.
"We're still figuring things out," Rivera said. "The young guys got a lot of good reps today. Kevin Norwood took an awful lot of reps, which was good, as did Devin Funchess.
"Those young guys really got some good opportunities to make some plays. They've got that kind of ability – they've just got to get opportunities now."
Speculation has surfaced that the Panthers might look to elevate Brenton Bersin from the practice squad, but that might not be necessary and could prove difficult because such a move would require removing someone from the 53-man roster.
More often than not, the Panthers have just four receivers active on game day, and do-everything player Joe Webb would give Carolina a fifth player capable of lining up at receiver along with Norwood, Funchess and starters Philly Brown and Ted Ginn, Jr.
"It's just like riding a bike, like getting back on the bike and starting to pedal again," Webb said. "I've just been working, and (wide receivers coach) Ricky (Proehl) and the receivers have been doing a great job with me so that if my number is called, I'll be ready."
Norwood did give the Panthers five active receivers last Sunday, but the Panthers only had two active running backs as a result. Norwood got open for a potential long gain in Carolina's victory over Houston but had the ball bounce off his hands for an interception.
"The ball came towards me and touched my hands, so I should have caught it," said Norwood, acquired in a trade late in the preseason. "I'm very grateful for the opportunity, and I was very upset with myself. But if I continue to play hard and show these coaches that I'm willing to do whatever it takes, then I'll let the rest take care of itself."
View photos from the Panthers' week of practice leading up to their game versus the Saints.
JOHNSON MISSES ANOTHER PRACTICE: Rivera was asked if he was looking forward to having his entire defensive line rotation available.
"Eventually," he said.
While defensive tackle Star Lotulelei practiced for the second consecutive day to move closer to making his season debut, defensive end Charles Johnson missed his second consecutive practice with a hamstring injury. Rivera, however, sounded hopeful.
"He worked with the trainers on the side, doing a lot of the running and pushing and pulling and shoving and all that good kind of stuff," Rivera said. "Tomorrow will be a really good indicator for Charles."
LIFE WITHOUT LUKE: Linebacker Luke Kuechly missed his first career game against the Texans. It also marked Thomas Davis' first game in more than three years without Kuechly by his side.
"It was very weird playing without him," Davis said. "I love playing with Luke. We have a really good feel for what the other guy is going to do. Being out there with A.J. (Klein) was different, but he knows his job and knows what to do. And Shaq (Thompson) is doing a really good job when he's in the game, so we're in a really good place."
Kuechly is yet to officially participate in practice since suffering a concussion in Week 1, but he's helped his fellow linebackers out at practice the last couple of days.
"He can see things from the sideline, and he understands our defense and has put in a lot of time watching film on New Orleans, so he knows what to expect," Davis said. "He's helping Shaq out, helping A.J. out, even helping me out."