A couple of key players for the Carolina Panthers are getting closer to returning from injuries.
Defensive end Charles Johnson and rookie receiver Devin Funchess both participated in positional drills during Tuesday’s practice and could be back in team drills by the end of the week.
Johnson missed the first two exhibitions with a calf strain, while Funchess sat out last week’s exhibition against Miami with a pulled hamstring. Panthers coach Ron Rivera left open the possibility Johnson could play Friday night against New England after two strenuous days of rehab exercises Monday and Tuesday.
“We’ll see how he reacts to everything (Wednesday) morning and then we’ll go from there,” Rivera said. “If you see him working with a group (during team drills), there’s a good chance he may play on Friday night.”
Funchess, who ran routes Tuesday and caught passes from Cam Newton, is the presumptive No. 1 wideout in the wake of Kelvin Benjamin’s season-ending knee injury.
Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei has been out since Aug. 3, when he was diagnosed with a stress reaction in his surgically repaired right foot. Lotulelei is still in a protective boot, but Rivera did not rule him out for the Sept. 13 opener at Jacksonville.
“But the key will be when he does get (the boot) off and how his conditioning is,” Rivera said. “We’re not going to try to expose a guy before he needs to be out there. So we’ll see. But my understanding right now is he’s right on track.”
Rivera said getting those players back – as well as reserve tight end Brandon Williams, who has been sidelined with a groin injury – will be beneficial to the rotations at certain positions.
“It’s always good to see those guys start going again because we need them,” he said. “It’s the time of training camp where the nicks and the bruises and bumps and sprains start showing up a little bit more. The hard part is guys end up taking more reps than they need to, and that’s where you get more injuries.”