The Panthers received a big boost to their defensive line depth Sunday with the return of two big guys up front.
Backup defensive tackles Kyle Love and Vernon Butler practiced together for the first time in several weeks as the Panthers began preparations for their Week 1 game at San Francisco.
Interim general manager Marty Hurney and head coach Ron Rivera indicated Love, who’s been dealing with an ankle injury, is further along than Butler.
“Kyle had a really good day. But I also thought taking a look at Vern, he moved around pretty good, too,” Rivera said. “So I’m excited that the potential for both these guys is there.”
Butler, the team’s first-round pick in 2016, sprained his knee in the preseason opener against Houston when Texans tackle Breno Giacomini took down Butler with a crackback block on a wide receiver screen.
Rivera sent tape of the play to the NFL office for review, and Butler agreed Sunday the block was questionable, at best.
“You go back and watch it, he definitely hit me when he was behind me, when he was on my blind side,” Butler said. “It is what it is. But just go from here and take off.”
Butler is looking for a big second season after struggling through an injury-plagued rookie year.
The former Louisiana Tech standout finished with just 11 tackles, 1.5 sacks and four quarterback pressures while missing five games with a high ankle sprain. He was inactive for another game.
Butler said he worked on his conditioning while he was out nearly a month during the preseason, and thinks he’s ready to go.
If it turns out he’s not or if Love has a setback, Rivera said having three defensive ends who can also man the interior – Julius Peppers, Wes Horton and Charles Johnson – will help fill the gaps behind starting DTs Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei.