Carolina Panthers

Panthers’ Kuechly plays with injured thumb

As the Panthers keep a close watch of their quarterback’s rib injury, the team’s defensive star will deal with a more minor injury for at least a few weeks.

Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly hyperextended his right thumb on Aug. 17, against the Chiefs and will play and practice with his hand in a cast into the regular season.

Kuechly banged his thumb on a helmet against the Chiefs. It was swollen after the game and he got it wrapped as a precaution. He played against the Patriots Friday with the cast on.

He said Sunday he didn’t aggravate the injury in his limited time against New England.

“It’s been no problems,” Kuechly said. “It’s got this cast on it. I have movement where I need movement, and it stops when I need it to stop, so I’m doing OK.”

Kuechly said he can still catch footballs with the cast, and it hasn’t been a hindrance. From the looks of his 15 snaps Friday, the cast didn’t hurt his tackling either.

Kuechly stopped New England running back Stevan Ridley at the line of scrimmage by picking up the running back and body-slamming him to the ground in the first quarter.

“He’ll work through it,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “He’ll play with it. It happens a lot of times to linebackers, guys that use their hands, play with their hands. You’re going to jam a thumb, you’re going to bend a thumb back, you’re going to dislocate a finger. That’s all part of it.”

Cuts come early: The Panthers got an early start on slicing their roster from 90 to 75 by Tuesday’s deadline by cutting 10 players on Sunday.

Headlining the cuts were receivers Tiquan Underwood and Kealoha Pilares. Underwood underperformed this preseason and lacked consistency, seemingly dropping as many passes as good plays he made.

“That (lack of consistency) probably would be the one thing,” Rivera said. “We saw the speed. We saw the route-running, but we’ve got to see a lot more consistency obviously.”

Pilares, a fifth-round selection in 2011, was competing for the No. 5 receiving spot and kick return duties. Rivera said when it became clear Pilares wouldn’t make the final roster, the team wanted to let him go early.

“With a young guy like that and guy that’s had success for you, you’d like to give the guy an opportunity to get out there early and see if there’s some interest in who he is,” Rivera said. “The door is never closed. We don’t close the door on a lot of guys. He’s one of the guys obviously the door won’t close on depending on situations and circumstances.”

Newton is now the only remaining member from the Panthers’ 2011 draft class.

The Panthers also cut Marvin McNutt and Toney Clemons. Those cuts pave the way for Tavarres King, Philly Brown and Marcus Lucas to battle for the final one or two spots after Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Brenton Bersin.

The Panthers have 79 players on their roster and must cut four more before 4 p.m. Tuesday. The remaining players cut were punter Jordan Gay, tackle Oscar Johnson, linebacker Anthony Morales, defensive ends Alex Hall and Craig Roh and defensive lineman Lindon Gaydosh.

Olsen’s time off: Tight end Greg Olsen will take off some of practice this week to be with his family as his son, T.J., undergoes the third and final-scheduled open-heart surgery Monday.

T.J. was born in 2012 with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a congenital heart defect. He underwent his first surgery two days after birth and had his second last summer.

Olsen said he would take some time away from practice until “things kind of settle down.”

“Any time you’re dealing with open heart surgery on a child, it’s pretty delicate and scary in itself,” Olsen said. “We’re unfortunately getting used to this. It’s the hand he was dealt, it’s the hand we were dealt and we’ll take it on like we have the last two and just hope for as fast a recovery as he can. Take it one day and take it (Tuesday), get through the surgery and get into recovery and have a speedy recovery and a fast path to bringing him home.”

After practice Sunday, the Panthers huddled and prayed as a team for the Olsen family.

Injury update: Strong safety Roman Harper returned to practice for the first time since Aug. 1 after dealing with turf toe.

“I was here but not really out there playing with the guys,” Harper said of sitting out for three weeks. “And going through the wars is kind of difficult. It felt good to be back out there today.”

Harper, who doesn’t talk about injuries, wouldn’t say if there’s still soreness in the toe. Rivera said the team will evaluate Harper on Monday.

Also returning to practice was right tackle Nate Chandler, who missed the game with a knee injury. Rookie safety Tre Boston (groin) returned to practice, as did outside linebacker Chase Blackburn (back).

Starting left tackle Byron Bell sat out with a cold-like illness, Rivera said. Right guard Trai Turner (groin), defensive end Greg Hardy (shoulder) and defensive end Charles Johnson (hamstring) also missed practice.