CHARLOTTE – After practicing for the first time in more than six weeks, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei said his injured foot feels good.
"I'm excited to get out there and work towards some playing time," Lotulelei said. "It will feel great to get that first hit in."
There's no word yet on whether that first hit will come in the Panthers' first home game Sunday against the Houston Texans, but Lotulelei's partial participation in practice Wednesday certainly was a positive step.
He hadn't practiced since suffering a stress reaction on August 3 in his right foot, the same foot that forced him to undergo surgery and sit out the NFC Divisional Playoff in January.
"We'll see. He had a really good day," head coach Ron Rivera said. "I was really pleased with what he did. He did a lot of the individual stuff with the defensive line, and then once we finished with individual drills, he was done for the day. He looked good. They had him pushing the sled, had him pushing other bodies.
"The biggest thing now is to see how he reacts tomorrow, and if it's good we'll probably extend how much he gets to practice and do a little extra conditioning with him."
Lotulelei said his conditioning is good despite the layoff, but he realizes he won't be 100 percent immediately upon his return and won't be fully in football shape.
"I did whatever I could when I wasn't on the field - riding the bike, lifting, whatever," Lotulelei said of his conditioning. "When I come back, I don't think it will be at 100 percent, but it will be good enough to be out there.
"Our guys do a great job in practice, but going live, there's no way to really prepare yourself for that unless you've been doing it."
The good news is that the Panthers have the depth at defensive tackle to ease Lotulelei back in. Veteran Kyle Love joined Kawann Short in the starting lineup in the season opener, and the Panthers rotated in veterans Colin Cole and Dwan Edwards and controlled the line of scrimmage in a 20-9 victory over Jacksonville.
The Panthers and Lotulelei plan to be patient but hope that come Sunday, patience takes the form of limiting Lotulelei's snap count rather than sitting him again.
"The first home game of the regular season is always exciting," Lotulelei said. "I'm excited to be back to it."
View photos from the Panthers' week of practice leading up to their game versus the Texans.