As two of the Panthers defensive players walked off the practice field Saturday, they saw rookie offensive lineman Edmund Kugbila being interviewed by reporters and joked about the attention he was receiving.
That the return of a fourth-round pick from a Division II school to practice was deemed newsworthy speaks to the teams lack of offensive line depth two weeks before the season opener against Seattle.
Kugbila made it through his first preseason practice Saturday after being sidelined four weeks with a hamstring injury. When the Panthers drafted Kugbila from Valdosta (Ga.) State, they envisioned him competing with Geoff Hangartner at right guard.
But when Hangartner was cut and Kugbila injured during the first week of training camp, Garry Williams became the starter. Williams was among the linemen who failed to generate much movement at the point of attack in last weeks exhibition at Baltimore.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera isnt sure whether Kugbila will be the answer up front.
I think Edmund has some skills and some abilities, he said. I want the best guy to be the starter, whether its him or somebody else.
Kugbila dealt with a knee issue that kept him out of most of the organized team activities and minicamp. He tried to return from his hamstring injury at Spartanburg before aggravating it.
Ive been waiting for a long time. It feels good to get out here and get back to work, Kugbila said. Im playing catch-up. Ive got to spend more time on film than the other guys. When I get a chance to do extra reps, Ive got to do extra reps and just get ready for next Thursday (against Pittsburgh).
Most observers expect Carolina to sign former Panthers lineman Travelle Wharton or another veteran lineman before Week 1. But Rivera was noncommittal on the topic.
Well see, Rivera said. Thats why weve got one more preseason game to find out where we are.
MOVING ON: Running back Armond Smith expressed remorse for kicking Ravens linebacker Albert McClellan after the two got tangled up at the end of Smiths 10-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Smith was ejected from the game and is expected to be fined, although he said Saturday he hasnt heard from the league, yet. Smith told Rivera that McClellan twisted his leg after the tackle.
At this point, it doesnt really matter. Ive got to be smarter than that, Smith said Saturday. It just got to a point where it didnt need to get to.
Im very apologetic about it. I just want to move on from it and make sure I do the things I need to do to not let my team down. Because I let my team down that day.
EXTRA POINTS: Rookie Kenjon Barner (ankle) became the latest running back on the injury report, joining Jonathan Stewart (ankle) and fullback Mike Tolbert (hamstring). All three missed Saturdays practice, as did guard Amini Silatolu (hamstring), tight end Ben Hartsock (foot), defensive tackle Frank Kearse (knee), wideout Joe Adams (calf) and guard/center Jeff Byers (undisclosed injury).
• Wide receivers Steve Smith and Armanti Edwards were excused for personal reasons, Rivera said.
• Rivera said he hasnt decided how much the starters will play against the Steelers. In the preseason finale last year at Pittsburgh, quarterback Cam Newton and nearly every other starter sat out.
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