Strickly Panthers: Otah still on mend

CHARLOTTE – The Panthers were hoping to have right tackle Jeff Otah ready for the first week of the regular season, but now they have to hope he'll be ready sometime in the first month of the season.

Otah said Thursday that it could be two to three weeks before he returns to action.

Otah missed the final three games of 2009 with a left knee injury, and he had a second surgery to clean up the knee on Aug. 4. He was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list on the eve of training camp and is yet to practice with the team.

"I didn't expect it to be this long," Otah said. "It's frustrating, but all I can do is try to rehab as hard as I can to get back out there. That's the only thing I'm in control of."

Geoff Schwartz started the final three games of 2009 and throughout the preseason in Otah's absence.

"I just have to keep my head up and try to cheer the guys on, just try to help the guys any way I can until I can get out there," Otah said.


MUNNERLYN READY TO RETURN: Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn appears poised to start the regular season as the Panthers' punt returner, reprising the role he held as a rookie last year.

"Right now I'm the No. 1 guy," Munnerlyn said. "I like the ball in my hands. I'm kind of happy I'm back there, kind of excited.

"Hopefully, I can take one to the house."

Rookie Armanti Edwards returned punts in the preseason opener and started out in that role in his home debut against the New York Jets on Aug. 21, but he struggled with back-to-back turnovers.

Munnerlyn got his chance soon after and responded with three returns for 37 yards, highlighted by a 24-yarder.

Munnerlyn suffered a calf injury against the Jets and hasn't played since, with Edwards, Brian Witherspoon and Trent Guy handling punt returns over the final two preseason games. Witherspoon and Guy were waived at the conclusion of the preseason, though Guy since has joined the Panthers' practice squad.

Munnerlyn recorded all but three of Carolina's punt returns in 2009, averaging 9.0 yards on 31 returns.


FOX'S NEW YORK MINUTES: Head coach John Fox has fond memories of his five seasons spent as defensive coordinator with the New York Giants.

One of his most vivid memories, however, is anything but fond.

The Panthers will fly to New York for Sunday's season opener on Saturday, Sept. 11, the ninth anniversary of the World Trade Center tragedies.

On that fateful morning, hours before two planes felled the twin towers, Fox and the Giants flew into Newark following a Monday night game at the Denver Broncos – shortly before United Airlines Flight 93 left Newark.

Flight 93 was one of four hijacked that day, the one redirected toward Washington, D.C. that instead crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.

"That day will be etched in my mind for my whole life," Fox said. "That's something I don't think you ever forget. I know it will last in me forever."

On the field of play, Fox won't forget a five-year run with the Giants capped by a shutout of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship and an appearance in Super Bowl XXXV. He certainly made his mark at the old Giants Stadium, and now he gets a shot at winning the first regular season game ever played at New Meadowlands Stadium.

"It's always fun going back there, and it's going to be interesting to be in a different stadium this time around," Fox said. "I have great respect for their organization. I know what they're all about; they're a storied franchise."


BREAKING BREAD: Running back Jonathan Stewart has to deal with being sandwiched between tacklers on occasion, yet Stewart has nothing against sandwiches – especially the homemade concoction he showed off Wednesday.

"You got to try one out," Stewart said before sinking his teeth into one. "It's peanut butter, strawberry, banana, honey, a little bit of cinnamon.

"It's called the PB and J-Stew.'"

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