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Panther fans: Thought you'd seen the last of Jeff Otah?

By Joseph Person
jperson@charlotteobserver.com

Just when Carolina fans thought they'd seen the last of Jeff Otah, the injury-plagued offensive tackle is back with the Panthers after his trade to the New York Jets was voided Tuesday when Otah failed his physical.

How long he stays with the team remains to be seen.

Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said he expects to meet with Otah on Wednesday morning at the team's training camp at Wofford, where Otah will undergo another physical.

The Panthers can keep Otah on the physically unable to perform list, activate him, cut him or try to trade him.

Hurney said Otah drew interest from multiple teams before the trade with the Jets was finalized. But that was before Otah flunked his physical.

"There were (teams interested) before, so I don't know," Hurney said. "But I don't want to talk much about that. We'll just see."

A team source said it's unlikely Otah remains with the Panthers, who made the decision last week to part ways with him and turn the right tackle position over to Byron Bell. Bell, a second-year player who started 12 games last season with Otah out, has been working ahead of Bruce Campbell and Garry Williams.

"It's the way it is. We tried to make a deal. Unfortunately, they didn't want it," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of the Jets. "So now we're back with Jeff. We'll see him (Wednesday). Marty and I will sit down and we'll visit and we'll go from there."

The Panthers received a seventh-round pick from the Jets in exchange for Otah, but the trade was dependent on Otah passing a physical. After failing his initial physical with the Jets, Otah had until Tuesday to pass it or the deal would be voided.

Otah, 26, a first-round draft pick in 2008, has missed 31 of the last 35 games due to issues with his left knee, which flared up again during organized team activities. The 6-6, 340-pound Otah was not in great shape for the start of OTAs.

Otah had a MRI during the spring and visited well-known sports orthopedist James Andrews, who said there was nothing structurally wrong with Otah's knee, according to the Panthers.

Hurney said the Panthers knew there was a possibility Otah would not be cleared medically, and the deal was worded accordingly. Hurney was uncertain whether Otah's knee or his conditioning was the issue with the Jets.

"We've always said we'd be happy to have him back," Hurney said. "It's a process now where you have to go step by step, and the first step will be talking to Jeff."

The Panthers have a roster spot available for Otah; defensive end/linebacker Jyles Tucker was cut after leaving camp last weekend.

Otah is due to make nearly $1.1 million this year. Efforts to reach Otah's agent, Eric Metz, were unsuccessful.

Rivera said he has been pleased with the play of Bell and the team's other tackles.

"I thought what our four primary tackles have done for us has been excellent. I'm very happy and excited about what they're doing," Rivera said.

"Byron has done a great job answering the call. With Jordan (Gross) as our left tackle, Byron is our right tackle right now. I think Garry Williams and Bruce Campbell give us a very good group of guys."

Person: 704-358-5123
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