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Carolina Panthers

Strickly Panthers: Heady stuff


CHARLOTTE – Panthers right tackle Jeff Otah has returned from a concussion and will start Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but safety Charles Godfrey is dealing with concussion-like symptoms that have left his status uncertain.

NFL teams have had to deal with stricter guidelines regarding concussions the last couple of seasons, and Panthers head coach Ron Rivera wouldn't have it any other way.

"It's obviously the right thing to do," Rivera said. "You don't want to put a guy out there before he's ready and have him get another one right away."

Earlier this year, Dave Duerson, a former Chicago Bears safety who played with Rivera, died at the age of 50. Before his death, he requested his brain be used in research about the long-term impact of multiple concussions, and a Boston University research team concluded that Duerson had neurodegenerative disease linked to concussions.

"It is most certainly a different era from when I played, and for good reason," Rivera said. "We're starting to find out from that generation of guys that the protocol needed to be more."

Otah suffered a concussion in the season opener at Arizona and missed last Sunday's game against Green Bay as a result. Wednesday, he returned to full participation in practice after going through a protocol established in 2009 that requires confirmation from team doctors and an independent doctor that there are no lingering symptoms.

"He looked good, he really did," Rivera said. "Ever since the situation at training camp (with a nagging knee injury), Jeff has been very astute to what he needs to do to maintain his shape. He kept working out and stayed in the best shape he could during last week's process, and he came back in and looked good at practice."

If Godfrey, who was injured in the second half of the Packers game, isn't ready to return, second-year pro Jordan Pugh will take his place.

"There's more a comfort level from year one to year two – it's kind of like you've been there, done that," said Pugh, who has already received significant playing time. "But I'm still growing, still learning, still trying to take all the coaching in because there are things I can always get better at."

Pugh made his first NFL start in 2010 versus the Bears when starter Sherrod Martin was inactive with a concussion.


POUNDING AWAY: A theory currently circulating suggest that the lack of padded practices permitted by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement may be limiting the effectiveness of running games.

Left tackle Jordan Gross isn't buying it.

"It should be equal if the defense is only in pads once a week too, right?" Gross said. "We've had games here where we went no pads all week and rushed for 200-plus yards, and we've been in pads on Wednesday and Thursday knocking the snot out of each other and rushed for 80 yards.

"It's about Sundays; I don't think it's about Wednesdays and Thursdays. Practice is very important, but I don't think the gear you have on determines how you do on Sunday."

Regardless of the reasons, Gross knows the Panthers' running game needs to improve immediately. The coaching staff hasn't expressed much concern publically that the Panthers rank 29th in the NFL in rushing because the productivity of the passing game has Carolina ranked No. 2 in the NFL in total offense.

"Just like I thought we would, we caught an ear-full from the coaches because we didn't run the ball like we should," Gross said. "That's something we'll continue to work on, but at the same time we can't let any of the pass protection stuff drop off because of that."

KEARSE-D: At 325 pounds, defensive tackle Frank Kearse is the third-heaviest player on the team behind Otah and fellow tackle Byron Bell.

That's by design.

"He's a big guy, along the lines of what I like in terms of big noses," Rivera said. "That's what we have in Sione (Fua) and what we have in Ron Edwards, who we will get back next season. To me, the big guys give your linebackers an opportunity to run."

The Panthers signed Kearse, a rookie out of Alabama A&M, off the Miami Dolphins practice squad Tuesday. Last week, they added 314-pound defensive tackle Ronald Fields, who is the fifth-heaviest player on the roster.

Kearse said he knows how to use his considerable bulk.

"I think I do a lot of things well, but I pride myself on stopping the run," he said. "I just hope I can help the team any way possible."

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