CHARLOTTE – Center Ryan Kalil, who has been battling a neck injury throughout the season, expects to start Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings.
The 11-year veteran hasn’t appeared in a game since Week 7 at Chicago, when he participated in Carolina’s first three series before exiting.
The season opener at San Francisco is the only other game the five-time Pro Bowler has played in this season.
“It’s been frustrating,” said Kalil, who missed eight games last season with a shoulder injury. “You work hard all offseason rehabbing the shoulder. You get tired of the rehab and get itching to play the game that you love and have played your whole life.
“The game doesn’t care, you know? It will take it from you pretty quickly.”
Kalil has been practicing for a couple weeks, and his readiness comes at an ideal time with center Tyler Larsen yet to practice this week with a foot injury.
“The thing we tried to preach with (Ryan) is just patience,” head coach Ron Rivera said. “He’ll know. Obviously, he feels pretty good right now, so we’re excited.”
It’d be understandable for Kalil to have some apprehension about returning to action after his previous return against the Bears was short-lived. But he insists that's not a concern this time around.
“No, I’ve been beat up enough in my career to not have that affect me whatsoever,” he said.
Kalil’s presence could be a substantial boost for an offense that needs to be at its best against the vaunted Vikings defense.
“We need him,” said tight end Greg Olsen, who has had to overcome injury issues of his own this season. “He brings a lot to our offense from an experience standpoint and what he does for those guys up front.
“I’m looking forward to having him back in the huddle and keeping him there.”
Everyone in the Panthers locker room echoes that sentiment.
“I still think I’ve got a lot of good football left in me,” Kalil said. “I just have to get out there and prove it.”