Panthers Notebook

Knee flare-up triggers MRI for Carolina Panthers lineman Jeff Otah

jperson@charlotteobserver.com June 1, 2012 

The knee injury that sidelined Panthers right tackle Jeff Otah for most of the past two-plus seasons has flared up again.

Otah underwent an MRI on his left knee on Thursday after tweaking it at some point during the first two weeks of OTA practices. Otah was not at Friday’s practice.

“Jeff tweaked his knee a little bit. It swelled up a little bit, so we’re just checking on that,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “We sent him for an MRI (Thursday) so we’re going to have that read. We’ll see.”

Otah, a first-round pick in 2008, has missed 31 of the past 35 games due to injury. He played in four games last fall before placed on injured reserve with knee and back ailments.

The Panthers thought shutting Otah down last fall would improve his long-term health.

Rivera was asked whether he was concerned about the latest setback.

“Not really,” Rivera said. “But we just wanted to make sure everything’s OK.”

Rivera also was asked whether the 6-foot-6, 330-pound Otah looked heavy during OTAs.

“I think Jeff looked like Jeff. Big,” Rivera said.

Otah, who turns 26 this month, is due to make $1.08 million this year in the final year of his contract. He has a salary cap figure of nearly $2.4 million.

Byron Bell, an undrafted free agent from New Mexico, started 12 games last season at right tackle. The Panthers acquired tackle Bruce Campbell in a trade that sent running back Mike Goodson to Oakland.

But Otah is arguably the team’s best run-blocker when healthy. But staying healthy has been the tricky part.

No Newton: When Rivera changed the practice schedule this week, it meant the Panthers were without quarterback Cam Newton on Friday. Newton, the Rookie of the Year in 2011, was in his hometown of Atlanta for a 7-on-7 youth football tournament sponsored by his charitable foundation.

“Of all the guys I kind of messed up the plans with, it was him,” Rivera said. “We had to excuse him, and deservedly so. This is a voluntary situation.”

Derek Anderson and Jimmy Clausen split the quarterback duties.

Pulling guard: Second-round pick Amini Silatolu continues to get the first-team reps at left guard. Silatolu, a standout at Division II Midwestern State, had trouble adjusting to an NFL playbook early in the organized team activities.

“He has gotten better each week. He was slow initially because he was really learning the position,” Rivera said. “But his athleticism really shows when you get a chance to watch him pull and get around the corners. You really see the impact he can make for our offense.”

Silatolu has the inside track to replace veteran guard Travelle Wharton, who was released this offseason and signed with Cincinnati. Geoff Hangartner is the returning starter at right guard.

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