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Velasco returns to familiar situation

CHARLOTTE – When Fernando Velasco walked into the locker room following his first practice this season with the Panthers, he accidently passed right by his new locker bound for the one he used to occupy.

The location of his old locker isn't the only thing Velasco remembers in great detail.

"I'll definitely have myself ready to play," he said, noting his familiarity with Carolina's system. "If they have me among the 46 guys Sunday, I can definitely do that."

Velasco, who started seven games at guard for the Panthers last season, re-signed with Carolina on Thursday. He started 11 games at center for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013 and 13 games at center for the Tennessee Titans in 2012.

In his first practice back, Velasco actually took some first-team snaps at center.

"Now we have Fernando as the backup center with (Mike) Remmers and Chris Scott as the emergency backup centers," head coach Ron Rivera said. "You try to have guys that are multi-position offensive linemen after your starters, and that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to find guys who aren't one-role players.

"Last year he actually started for us guard, so he knows it very well, and he was playing center at Tennessee."

Velasco spent the preseason with the Titans – the team he played his first five NFL seasons with before heading to Pittsburgh in 2013 – but was released in the roster cutdown to 75.

"I was kind of surprised he was let go, so it was a nice situation for us to bring him back into the fold very quickly," Rivera said. "We were able to take some of the reps off of Kalil today and let Fernando work with the first team."

The Panthers had planned to have Remmers, their starting right tackle, on standby if Kalil needed a break coming off a preseason knee injury. But that plan changed when rookie Daryl Williams – who would have played right tackle if Remmers slid to center – suffered a knee injury in the opener that could keep him out for a month.

The current tackle situation behind Remmers and left tackle Michael Oher was made more tenuous still by how the roster spot for Velasco opened up. Reserve tackle Nate Chandler was placed on injured reserve Thursday because of problems with the same knee that sidelined him for the final five games last season.

"It buckled on him the other day, so the doctors just felt like this is the best situation," Rivera said. "Believe me, we've looked out there and have scoured the wires. We're really looking. As for right now, we have Amini (Silatolu) as the primary tackle backup with Chris Scott as the emergency tackle backup."

The addition of Velasco frees up Silatolu, who has never played tackle in a regular season NFL game, to focus on transitioning from guard.

Velasco knows all three interior line positions, and he knows the coaching staff will have him ready to go if need be. He spent significant time with offensive line coach John Matsko during practice and then with strength and conditioning coach Joe Kenn – aka "House" – after practice.

"Coach Matsko will make sure I know every single detail. He'll have me ready to play," Velasco said. "I had been working out with my trainer back in Georgia, and I just worked out with House. He put it on me a little bit, gave me a good welcome-back workout.

"It feels good to be back and be around all these familiar faces. I'm just excited to be around a good group of guys and back around a positive environment."

View photos from the Panthers' week of practice leading up to their game versus the Texans.

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