CHARLOTTE – The Panthers have been cautious with Ryan Kalil this spring and summer, but they're ready to ramp up his work.
The five-time Pro Bowl center will start Friday's preseason game against the Dolphins, head coach Ron Rivera revealed after Wednesday's practice.
Kalil, who was held out of last week's preseason opener in Buffalo, may have a shorter stint than other starters Friday. Shoulder and neck injuries forced him to miss 18 games the past two seasons, but Kalil is now as healthy as he's been in a long time.
Tyler Larsen, who started in place of Kalil against the Bills, "more than likely" won't face the Dolphins, according to Rivera. Larsen has a hyperextended left elbow, and as Rivera said, "It'd be kind of foolish to put him out there and have something happen without it being 100 percent."
Other guys who didn't practice Wednesday: linebackers Andre Smith (hamstring) and Ben Jacobs (groin), wide receiver Fred Ross (groin) and cornerback Cole Luke (undisclosed).
Cornerback LaDarius Gunter, who's in the final stage of the concussion protocol, was a limited participant.
Tight end Jason Vander Laan, who missed some of training camp with a shoulder injury, was not on the field. Rivera said Vander Laan "had to go see the doctor" but declined to provide further details.
If second-round pick Donte Jackson didn't see every rep with the 1s on Wednesday, he sure got the bulk of time with that group.
Rivera still isn't ready to officially award Jackson the No. 2 cornerback job, but he'll begin Friday night's game across from No. 1 corner James Bradberry, and it feels like the role is Jackson's until further notice.
"I'm just going to get out here every day and prepare like it's my job," he said diplomatically. "I'm going to go hard for the remainder of the preseason, for the remainder of the year. If coach calls my name, I'll be ready to go."
Rivera raised some eyebrows a few weeks back when he not-so-subtly hinted at a major uptick in touches for running back Christian McCaffrey. But as evidenced by McCaffrey getting the ball on six of the starting offense's 14 plays in Buffalo, Rivera may not have been exaggerating when he said his second-year running back could see 25 to 30 touches a game.
"I've seen a very confident, positive, 'Hey, I want to do more,'" Rivera said of McCaffrey. "He's worked very hard at it. He's worked at getting bigger, stronger, faster, quicker. You see even more attention to detail. He was really detailed last year, but you see a lot more of that now."
McCaffrey, who added about six pounds of muscle this offseason to prepare for an increased role, totaled 197 touches as a rookie (25 to 30 a game would get him to at least 400).
"I feel great. I think, like I've said before, it's an every day mentality," said McCaffrey in his matter-of-fact way. "It's tough not to, but you can't look forward to the future. You've just got to take it day-by-day and do whatever you can in that day to prepare to be the best. I had a great offseason, but I'm definitely excited that the season's right around the corner."