Carolina Panthers

Injuries stalling the development of Panthers’ top two draft picks

Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Vernon Butler, the first-round pick from Louisiana Tech, will miss his fifth consecutive game with a high-ankle sprain.
Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Vernon Butler, the first-round pick from Louisiana Tech, will miss his fifth consecutive game with a high-ankle sprain. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

The Panthers’ top two draft picks from last spring have spent a lot of time together as rookies.

Unfortunately, it’s been in the training room.

Defensive tackle Vernon Butler, the first-round pick from Louisiana Tech, and second-round cornerback James Bradberry have been sidelined with injuries for the past month.

Bradberry is expected to play Sunday at Los Angeles after sitting three games with a turf-toe injury, while Butler will miss his fifth consecutive game with a high-ankle sprain.

It’s made it tough for the Panthers to evaluate what they have in their first two picks.

“You want them contributing. They’re solid football players -- young guys that are going to be part of what we do as we go forward,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Thursday. “Both of them showed very well those first few weeks, played exceptional football for rookies.”

Butler came off the bench for a sack in the season-opening loss at Denver. Bradberry, a starter from the first day of camp, had an interception in a Week 2 win against San Francisco.

Bradberry says it’s frustrating because the injuries have slowed the rookies’ development.

“I feel like we’ve shown glimpses but we haven’t really put together a full portfolio of what we can do,” he said. “Hopefully in the next games we have, we can show that and just prove there was a reason why they drafted us.”

Fellow rookie Daryl Worley, the third-round corner from West Virginia, says it’s been good to get Bradberry back at practice. But Worley has given Bradberry a hard time about getting out of shape while he was hurt.

Bradberry says his conditioning didn’t fall off as much as he thought it might.

“I just tried my best to get in the best shape that I could being away from football,” Bradberry said. “It wasn’t too bad. I feel like I handled it pretty well.”

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