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Dan Connor rejoins Carolina Panthers

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Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, left, is tackled on a run by Dallas Cowboys linebacker Dan Connor during a 2012 game in Charlotte. The Cowboys defeated the Panthers 19-14.

The pipeline of Carolina Panthers and New York Giants joining the other team continues, this time with linebacker Dan Connor.

The Panthers signed Connor, who was drafted in 2008 by Carolina, on Tuesday, just more than a week after Connor was waived from the Giants’ injured reserve.

Connor played three seasons with the Panthers and started in 19 games. He signed with the Cowboys and played in Dallas in 2012 before signing with the Giants in March.

Connor suffered similar neck injuries at the start of the season: one in the preseason finale and again in the season opener against the Cowboys. The Giants placed him on IR on Sept. 12 and waived him Nov. 4.

To make room for Connor, the Panthers placed cornerback James Dockery on IR. Dockery tore his labrum during the Atlanta game in Week 9. He was hoping to hold off on surgery until after the season and expected to be out 2-4 weeks.

His signing continues a trend of Carolina-New York relations. Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman spent more than a decade in the Giants’ front office, and since he took over this winter, the Panthers have signed former Giants Chase Blackburn and Domenik Hixon and sent linebacker Jon Beason to New York for a late-round draft pick.

Rookie linebacker A.J. Klein started at weakside linebacker against San Francisco, and he said Tuesday he expects to get his second start against New England in place of Blackburn, who’s been hampered by a foot injury.

It also continues the trend of Carolina bringing back players from Rivera’s first year as coach. Already the team has brought back linemen Geoff Hangartner, Travelle Wharton and linebacker Jason Williams.

Line move: The Panthers also signed guard Travis Bond on Tuesday, filling the vacant roster spot left by Sione Fua.

Bond, a 6-foot-6, 330-pound lineman, played at North Carolina and was drafted by Minnesota in the seventh round of April’s draft. He was most recently with the Vikings’ practice squad.

The Panthers have suffered a rash of injuries along the offensive line this year, and the team tried to convert former defensive tackle Fua to the offensive line last week before cutting him Tuesday.

“Even though we really like who he is and who he can become, the concern is if we ever got down to that third guy,” Rivera said of Fua. “Well we got down to that third guy a couple weeks ago and it was Nate (Chandler), and fortunately for us Nate had some work there. If we got into a situation like that, we’re not quite sure.”

Rivera said guard Chris Scott, who suffered a knee sprain against Atlanta, is unlikely to play this week.

Kuechly honored: On average, a Carolina Panthers defender will win NFC Defensive Player of the Week once every three weeks.

This week, it was Luke Kuechly’s turn.

The middle linebacker became the third Panthers player to win the honor through nine games this season after his 11-tackle, one-sack performance in Sunday’s 10-9 victory against San Francisco.

Kuechly follows in the footsteps of defensive end Greg Hardy, whose three-sack game against the Giants earned him the honor, and linebacker Thomas Davis, who got his first multi-sack game of his career against Minnesota.

“Any accolades that he receives are definitely well deserved,” Davis said. “We’re proud of Luke and excited for him. Hopefully we can end it with a Pro Bowl now at the end of the season.”

Kuechly, the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year, led the team with 11 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, one quarterback hit and one pass defense. He anchored a defense that held San Francisco to 151 total yards of offense, a 15-percent conversion rate on third downs and did not allow a touchdown.

He last won the award in December when he racked up 16 tackles against the Falcons. He’s the first Panthers linebacker to win the regular-season award more than once.

Mitchell comfortable: Mike Mitchell said he “definitely” feels comfortable now at free safety after spending most of his career as a strong safety.

Mitchell, a free-agent acquisition from Oakland, was brought to Carolina as a strong safety. But after Charles Godfrey went down with a season-ending Achilles tear in Week 2, Mitchell made the switch.

Since then, he’s tallied three interceptions, two forced fumbles, and 2 1/2 sacks.

“I’ll play any safety position that they ask me to play,” Mitchell said. “The move’s been good. I’ve always felt like I have the ability to play both. When (Godfrey) went down I made the move over and tried to do a good job there. I feel like I could be doing the same thing at strong safety. Our roles are really interchangeable the way we play our defense.”

Said Rivera: “He brings a little bit of swagger back there to that group. He’s funny because a lot of things have been said about the secondary and he keeps saying, ‘Keep bringing the challenges.’ I think it’s a mentality that he’s helped to permeate as far as that group.”

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9
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