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Strickly Panthers: Specialists shine

!CHARLOTTE – The Panthers' struggles on special teams this preseason have been well-documented, but the kicking specialists have done quite well.

Through two games, punter Jason Baker has generated a 50.8-yard gross average getting plenty of work – 16 punts. Baker has placed three inside the 20 with just one touchback.

Baker averaged 44.1 yards for the 2009 regular season.

"Two games, that would be like defining a restaurant on one meal," Baker said. "I'm just trying to hit quality punts and move the line of scrimmage."

Kicker John Kasay, now in his 20th NFL season, has accounted for all of the Panthers' offensive points so far. He's hit all three of his field goal attempts, though he did have an uncharacteristic miss on a PAT following a defensive touchdown.

Once Kasay splits the uprights, the Panthers turn it over to kickoff specialist Todd Carter, who responded with touchbacks on each of his two kickoffs Saturday against the New York Jets after placing two of four in the end zone in the opener at Baltimore.

HELP ON THE WAY: Safety Aaron Francisco returned to the practice field Wednesday for the first time since the first week of training camp, and wide receiver Charly Martin continues to progress from his injury.

Both could give Carolina's special teams units a boost.

Francisco, who signed as a free agent after spending last season with the Indianapolis Colts, was special teams captain for the Arizona Cardinals in 2007 and '08. He injured his hamstring on the third day of training camp but reemerged Wednesday.

"I didn't necessarily feel that great as far as my hamstring injury is concerned, but it felt good to be out there on the field and get some work in," Francisco said. "Since I've been hurt, I've been in my playbook more than anything, staying sharp mentally, so I don't feel like I'm falling behind. I know what's going on out there."

Martin shattered the middle finger on his left hand on July 30, an injury that required the insertion of three screws and should take six weeks to heal. Still, Martin played on special teams with a taped-up hand Saturday, recording a tackle.

"I approached them a couple of weeks ago to see if there at least something I could do on the field, and I got that opportunity last week," Martin said. "It's getting better every day, but I'm not released to catch yet. Until I'm released to catch balls and get back in there, I'm going to do everything I can on special teams.

"Cast it up, and go play."

ROSTER MOVE: The Panthers have claimed 6-foot-6. 300-pound offensive tackle Kirk Barton off waivers from the Denver Broncos.

To make room, they waived offensive tackle Jason Capizzi, who had joined the team on Aug. 9.

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