CHARLOTTE – Center and team captain Ryan Kalil, who hasn't played since Week 1 because of a neck injury, is getting closer to returning.
Kalil participated in Tuesday's padded practice and said he feels optimistic about playing against the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
"I do. We'll keep working and see how it goes," Kalil said. "I just want to get out there and contribute.
"It's different running around in pads and hitting people and wrestling big guys. Part of it is getting back in shape and getting strength back, and obviously, being pain-free."
Kalil's contributions are massive for Carolina's offense, and perhaps that gets overlooked because of the position he plays.
Tyler Larsen is doing the best he can to fill Kalil's shoes, but that's no small task. Kalil is a five-time Pro Bowler who is one of the best pulling centers in the NFL. And his ability to communicate what he's seeing to the rest of the offensive line makes him nearly impossible to replace – not unlike linebacker Luke Kuechly.
"When you see the communication and how he IDs stuff, it's a little bit different obviously, because Tyler doesn't have Ryan's experience yet," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Tyler just isn't quite there yet. I think he will be. He's a tremendous football player and he's got great upside for us, and he's supplied us with tremendous depth. But he's not a five-time Pro Bowler."
For an offense that's struggled mightily to establish a running game over the past two weeks – running backs are averaging under a yard per carry in that span – a center and leader of Kalil's caliber would help fix some issues.
"We've taken turns missing a guy here or there. Certain schemes that we've been good at I think we've taken for granted with how we block them and the timing of all that stuff," Kalil said. "For us, it's a matter of focusing on assignments. Most of the things we've seen on film have been communication problems, not being on the same page with guys we're responsible for, two guys blocking the same guy and letting a guy free – those are just dumb mistakes that you can control.
"Players have to execute. We know it, and we have to do a better job with that."
View photos of the week of practice leading up to the Panthers' game against the Bears.