SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Carolina Panthers coach John Fox said the team will wait until after Maake Kemoeatu's surgery today before deciding whether he will need to be placed on the injured reserve list.
Kemoeatu, the Panthers' starting nose tackle, tore his right Achilles tendon Monday, the first day of training camp at Wofford College. And the decision on how much time Kemoeatu will miss depends on the surgery's outcome.
"It's just kind of wait and see now," Fox said after Tuesday's practice.
Kemoeatu, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and a protective boot on his right leg, watched the practice from beneath a row of trees in the corner of one of Wofford's practice fields.
"I'm bummed out," said Kemoeatu. "I wasn't expecting to get hurt on the first day."
Kemoeatu, a 6-foot-5, 345-pound run-stuffing specialist, said he hoped to be back before the end of the regular season.
"They're going to go in there and try and fix it up and see when I can come back," he said. "After surgery, they're telling me it will be four weeks at least. So maybe I'll be back for the last month of the season.
"Every little hope I have is that I'll be back out there with the boys."
If a player is placed on injured reserve, he can't play for the remainder of the season. He can be replaced on the team's roster.
Fox indicated they could keep Kemoeatu off injured reserve, at least for a while.
"We've tried that before," Fox said of keeping a player off injured reserve with the hopes he will get healthy. "But just because you get out of camp doesn't mean injuries stop. Sometimes you try it, sometimes you can't hold it because sometimes you get whacked at another position and have to go elsewhere."
Kemoeatu's injury strikes at one of the team's problem areas: depth on the defensive line. Fox said the Panthers have a list of veteran replacements they could sign -- possibly including former New York Jets first-round pick Dewayne Robertson, a free agent who played for the Denver Broncos last season.
The replacements on the roster are inexperienced and substantially smaller than Kemoeatu, including second-year player Nick Hayden (6-4, 292) and rookies Corvey Irvin (6-3, 302) and Marlon Favorite (6-1, 317).
Hayden, who practiced with the first team Tuesday, filled in last year when Kemoeatu missed two games at the end of the regular season. Irvin, although pegged to be a pass-rushing tackle in the NFL, was a nose tackle at Georgia.
"They haven't talked to me about it," said Irvin, the team's third-round draft choice. "But if they need me, I can do it. I'm comfortable with the nose."
If there's a ray of hope for the Panthers in losing Kemoeatu, it's that new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks' teams have been successful without large players at every position on the line.
But Meeks feels that Kemoeatu would have fit into his schemes well.
"His skill set does contribute to our football team in a way that would be very positive," said Meeks. "He's been a very successful football player. We felt with the scheme we had, he could fit into."
Panthers center Ryan Kalil, who faced Kemoeatu every day in practice, said it doesn't really matter how big a nose tackle is, as long as he takes advantages of what the physical attributes he has.
"Every guy is so different," he said. "There's not one stereotypical [nose tackle]. I've gone against guys who are big, not fast. And against guys who are big and quick, like [the New York Jets' Kris] Jenkins [a former Panther who is 360 pounds]. He's one of the quickest guys I've seen. A guy like that is dangerous."
And Kalil echoed his teammates with how badly he feels that Kemoeatu's season has been -- if not ended -- at least cut dramatically short.
"With our new defense, he'd been doing a lot of running around, cutting down on his weight and moving like I hadn't seen him move before," Kalil said. "It's really disappointing. I was looking forward to seeing what he could do."
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