CHARLOTTE - In the wake of kicker Olindo Mare's recent struggles in the clutch, the Panthers added a second kicker Tuesday in Adi Kunalic, an undrafted rookie free agent who attended training camp with the team.
Kunalic took the roster spot previously occupied by linebacker Jason Phillips, who was placed on injured reserve with a calf injury. Phillips, who missed the last five games, is the team-record 15th Carolina player placed on IR, one more than the previous high of 14 set in 2004 and 2010.
"We had Adi in training camp, and we thought he had a lot of potential," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said. "We just think it's a good time to bring him in and let him compete."
Mare missed a 36-yard field goal in the final five minutes of Sunday's 31-23 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, a kick that would have given the Panthers the lead. The field goal missed wide left toward the west end of Bank of America Stadium, very similar to the 31-yarder he missed that could have forced overtime against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 8.
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera suggested Monday that the Panthers might look to shake things up at the position.
"We've got to think this through and go through the process and make sure we make good decisions when it comes down to our players," Rivera said. "At some point, you'd like to believe that it's going to work out, that he's going to kick 'em and make 'em. That's what he was brought in here to do, so hopefully we'll get that done."
Mare, a 15-year NFL veteran in his first season with the Panthers is 19-for-25 on field goals (two of the misses were blocked) and 32-for-33 on PATS (the one miss was blocked) this year.
Kunalic attempted more kicks in the preseason with the Panthers than he did throughout his four-year career at the University of Nebraska, making both of his field goal attempts and all three of his PATs with Carolina. Kunalic also kicked off six times in the preseason and reached the end zone every time with one touchback.
At Nebraska, Kunalic backed up Alex Henery, the only kicker selected in the 2010 NFL draft and now the kicker for the Philadelphia Eagles. Kunalic attempted one field goal in college, hitting a 46-yarder as a freshman, but mostly served as a kickoff specialist. As a senior, he ranked third in the country with 39 touchbacks and produced 125 touchbacks in his career.
Phillips is the fourth Carolina linebacker placed on IR this season. The Panthers claimed him off waivers from the Baltimore Ravens following Week 2, when starting linebacker Thomas Davis joined fellow starter Jon Beason on IR.
Phillips played in four games and registered three tackles for the Panthers before suffering a calf injury against the Vikings.