Kealoha Pilares, the NFL's No. 2 kickoff returner after two long run-backs the past two weeks, missed his second consecutive practice Thursday and could miss Sunday's game at Tampa Bay.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Pilares "struggled a little bit" while trying to run Thursday, and will be re-evaluated today.
If Pilares can't play, punt returner Armanti Edwards would handle kickoff returns, as well. While Pilares broke returns of 101 and 76 yards against Detroit and Indianapolis, Edwards is still searching for a big return.
He got loose for 45 yards last week at Indy, but it was nullified by an illegal block. Edwards is next-to-last in the league with a 6.0-yard average, with a long of 17 yards.
"There's been a few more chances. Break one tackle and be out the gate," Edwards said. "Just got to keep pushing for it."
Edwards hasn't returned a kickoff in a game since the 2010 preseason, but fields them everyday in practice.
FREEMAN QUESTIONABLE: Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman, who is dealing with a shoulder injury, did not throw Thursday during the 30 minutes the media was allowed to watch the Buccaneers' practice. Freeman has made 36 consecutive starts, but that streak could be in jeopardy.
Josh Johnson, 25, would start if Freeman is out. And while Freeman has struggled this season with 16 interceptions and 12 touchdowns, Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy said he would rather face Johnson, in his fourth year out of the University of San Diego.
HOGAN UPDATE: Rookie cornerback Brandon Hogan said he's feeling better after experiencing a setback with his surgically repaired knee a couple of weeks ago when the Panthers practiced two days on their artificial turf field.