SPARTANBURG, S.C. - The Panthers have taken a significant hit along each line with injuries suffered by veteran defensive tackle Ron Edwards and rookie offensive lineman Zack Williams.
Edwards tore the triceps in his right arm, and Williams tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Both injuries occurred during practice Thursday evening and were confirmed following Friday's evening practice. Head coach Ron Rivera will further address the extent of the injuries Saturday.
Edwards, an 11-year veteran who signed last week as an unrestricted free agent following five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, had been projected to start along a young defensive interior.
Williams, a sixth-round draft pick out of Washington State, was expected to compete for a reserve role along the offensive line. He has experience both at center and guard, having started at center for the Cougars throughout the 2010 season.
WR PICTURE TO GET MORE CROWDED: What already figured to be a fierce battle among wide receivers for roster spots - and for a starting spot - just got even fiercer with the Panthers' pending acquisition of unrestricted free agent Legedu Naanee.
"We've had nobody step up other than Steve (Smith). We've got to find guys that are going to step up and challenge for the position," said Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, who worked with Naanee in San Diego last season. "This is an opportunity to have a guy that understands the system, knows the system, and can help show the young guys how to do the system and what it takes to be a pro."
At 6-2, 220 pounds, and with a 4.41 time in the 40 and a 40-inch vertical leap at the 2007 NFL Scouting Combine, Naanee is a physical specimen. His role in the Chargers' explosive offense increased each of the past two seasons - during which time he caught 47 balls for 613 yards - and he's been a factor on special teams in each of his four NFL seasons.
"He's a big, physical guy and a heck of an athlete," Rivera said. "He's going to bring a little something to us. It will be good for us."
After Smith, second-year receivers David Gettis and Brandon LaFell have been presumed to be next in line, with another second-year receiver, Armanti Edwards, coming on strong in training camp.
The Panthers also have rookie Kealoha Pilares – a fourth-round pick – and veterans like Wallace Wright and David Clowney in the mix. Counting Naanee, they'll have 13 receivers on the 90-man roster, only about half of whom will eventually make the 53-man roster.
"They understand that this is all about competing," Rivera said, "and when you get an opportunity you certainly have to take advantage."
PLAYERS ARE FAN FEST FANS: Fans will turn out Saturday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium to see the latest version of the Panthers in action, but some players will be looking the way of the fans as well.
"I think it's more fun for us than the fans," wide receiver Brandon LaFell said. "We get a chance to really get out there and interact, to sign a couple of autographs and shake a couple of hands.
"We get to get up close and really see the faces that are buying season tickets and cheering for us."
There's no need to buy a ticket for Saturday's event – admission is free. The gates open at 2:30 p.m., with a bevy of activities offered beginning at 2 p.m. until the practice kicks off at 4 p.m.
Fan Fest practices in the past have featured a scrimmage, but this time around, fans will instead get a look at how a typical Panthers practice goes as the team continues to try to make up for lost time.
"It will be a regular practice for the most part," Rivera said. "Because of the way things are, we really can't do anything overly special. We're not going to take it as a pause and try to showcase anything."
Wide receiver Armanti Edwards is among those who can't wait to give fans a glimpse of what they'll see when the Panthers return to the stadium next Saturday for their preseason opener against the New York Giants.
"We get to show some of the fans who don't get to come down here how much we've improved from last year," Edwards said. "I'm excited."
GOOD EXCUSE: One player that won't take part in Fan Fest is linebacker Thomas Davis, who will spend the day at the University of Georgia, receiving his degree in housing and consumer economics.
"It's a great occasion," Davis said. "I definitely feel like it's a good thing that I decided to take the time to go back and get it done."
Davis completed three business classes during the NFL's work stoppage to earn his degree. He left Georgia after his junior season and was selected in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft.
BEHIND BUT NOT BOTHERED: Given the abbreviated practice time afforded the Panthers this offseason, Rivera estimated that the team has installed only about one-third of the offense it would have at this point in a normal offseason.
Still, LaFell sounds like he's three times as excited.
"It's just way different," said LaFell, who had 38 catches for 468 yards as a rookie in 2010. "We've opened up the playbook a lot more, and we're going down the field a lot more than we did last year. We're also spreading the ball out way more and have the backs coming out of the backfield more.
"It's fun to be out there knowing that on any play you could be the first read."
While LaFell is pumped up about what he's seen, he hasn't seen nothing yet. If not for the four-month NFL work stoppage, the Panthers would have had their typical offseason practice opportunities as well as an additional mini-camp granted to teams with new coaching staffs.
"As a new staff, we would have had 24 practices - two mini-camps and the 14 OTAs," Rivera said. "We are behind, but everybody is in that situation. What we've had to do is we've had to pare down what we want installed. We haven't really begun to open the playbook as much as you would like to at this point.
"What we've got to do is we've got to be good with our base fundamentals, we've got to be good with the things that we're working on, so that when we start the season we can play fast and we can do things that you need to do to give yourself a chance to win."