Panthers’ rookie guard Edmund Kugbila’s wait to play ‘feels like a lifetime’

jjones@charlotteobserver.comAugust 19, 2013 

Edmund Kugbila thought he’d finally get his first real taste of NFL preseason snaps last week in Spartanburg, but he didn’t last half of practice.

The fourth-round selection out of Division-II Valdosta State re-injured the hamstring he originally hurt during the first practice of training camp and hasn’t been in pads since an Aug. 11 practice in Spartanburg.

Monday, the offensive guard said he can’t wait to get back on the field.

“I tried to come back too early,” Kugbila said. “But this week I’m just waiting on them to tell me. It’s been four weeks since I put on pads and a helmet, and it feels like a lifetime.”

It’s unlikely Kugbila will see the field Thursday night at Baltimore in the Panthers’ third preseason game. But head coach Ron Rivera has not indicated whether a final decision has been made. The team was hopeful Kugbila would play against Philadelphia last week, but his hamstring injury prevented that from happening.

Kugbila has taken only a handful of live-action snaps against NFL-caliber talent despite 10 organized team activity sessions and a three-day minicamp. A sore leg kept the rookie out of most of those workouts and on an exercise bike, and he didn’t make it to team drills last Sunday before going back to the locker room in Spartanburg.

He’s been forced to take mostly mental reps when not on the exercise bike, and he said he’s lost five pounds and is down to his combine weight of 325 pounds.

“I feel great, man,” Kugbila said. “I’m just waiting on them to call my number, and I’ll be ready.”

The Panthers are thin at guard. Jeff Byers is the immediate backup at both guard positions and center while Chris Scott and Hayworth Hicks are the Panthers’ top guard-only options.

RECEIVERS BACK: Domenik Hixon has yet to put on a Panthers jersey during game day, and Rivera hopes that changes Thursday.

Hixon returned to practice Sunday from a hamstring strain that had sidelined him since early August, but neither he nor Armanti Edwards participated in team drills on the wet practice field Monday.

“We’ll find out (Tuesday),” Rivera said. “These first two days you get them back, get them acclimated, so we were a little concerned. We’ll get a real good shot at them tomorrow. Hopefully the turf will be drier and be better and we can really stress them to see if they can hold up during the game.”

Edwards also suffered a hamstring strain that kept him out of the Philadelphia game. The two figure to be battling for the open No. 3 wide receiver position. Hixon had 39 catches for 567 yards last year with the New York Giants while Edwards is enjoying the best camp of his four-year NFL career.

“The competition, what those young guys have done, talking about David Gettis and Armanti, we want to see what Domenik brings to the table as well,” Rivera said. “So it’s a heck of a battle. And we’ll see as we progress as we get into Thursday and next Thursday after that.”

No. 2 tight end Ben Hartsock sat out of practice with plantar fasciitis, and Rivera hopes to have him back Tuesday.

RAINY DAY: The Panthers dealt with light to heavy rain for their two-hour practice Monday, but Rivera said he wasn’t longing for an indoor practice facility.

“We do play in the elements, that’s our stadium,” said Rivera, referring to the open-air Bank of America Stadium. “I think there’s something about being out in the elements that’s great.”

Rivera said he reminded the players about the Panthers 2011 game against Jacksonville when they began grouching about the rain during practices that week. When it rained heavily that Sunday, the Panthers committed no turnovers and won 16-10.

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9

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