Hixon ready for Panthers debut Thursday against Steelers

jjones@charlotteobserver.comAugust 25, 2013 

Domenik Hixon guessed his hamstring is at about 85 to 90 percent healthy Sunday after his second consecutive practice.

It’s a hamstring strain that has kept him sidelined for nearly all of August and turned the clubhouse leader for the No.3 wide receiver spot into a player potentially missing the final cut.

After a Saturday practice that yielded no setbacks Sunday, Hixon is preparing to make his Panthers debut Thursday against Pittsburgh and begin fighting for his place on the depth chart.

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out right now,” Hixon said. “We’re kind of jockeying for position and that’s why the reps are delicate and hard to come by. Being out here now is a good thing for me.”

Hixon, signed this spring, is competing with David Gettis and Armanti Edwards for the No.3 spot, but he has to get his rhythm down with Cam Newton. Hixon said he took a lot of mental reps while sidelined, but there’s still a timing issue with the quarterback that must be ironed out if he will succeed in Carolina.

“It’s been tough,” coach Ron Rivera said. “They’ve thrown the ball around a few times. But again, it’s one of those things that you wish the guy was running the routes. He’s a different route runner compared to Steve (Smith) and compared to Brandon LaFell, so they’re going to have to develop that rapport and hopefully they can get it down quickly.”

Last season with the Giants, Hixon caught 39 passes for 567 yards and two touchdowns. By comparison, that’s 14 catches, 231 yards and one touchdown more than Louis Murphy, Carolina’s No.3 receiver, had last season.

“He’s got a lot of savvy to who he is as a football player, and I think he’s going to help the group,” Rivera said. “The combination of receivers and tight ends we have, the more weapons you put on the football field, the more effective we’ll be as an offense. And you want to give Cam as many tools as possible.”

Kugbila setback: One day after he finally returned to action on the practice field, rookie guard Edmund Kugbila was back on the sideline.

Kugbila suffered yet another setback after one day of practice, continuing a theme for the fourth-round draft pick.

He missed nearly all of spring workouts and training camp. He attempted to practice one day in Spartanburg but went to the locker room midway through the session.

“We’re concerned about the hamstring still and we’re going to bring him on a little slower than we had planned,” Rivera said. “A little disappointing obviously because he’s got some ability and promise, so we’ll see how it goes.

“He’s a young guy, a young body and he’s got a lot to learn. We’ve got to make sure and continue to work with him.”

Extra Points

• Linebacker Jon Beason said he would like to play Thursday night against Pittsburgh because he feels he needs the reps to get stronger. Beason had a 15-snap limit last week against Baltimore and played in 14 snaps.

• Starting left guard Amini Silatolu (hamstring) did not practice Sunday and Rivera said he will not play against the Steelers. Chris Scott will get the start in his place.

• Rivera said he was hopeful that Edwards (hamstring) will return to practice Monday. The receiver had an excuse from practice Saturday and was sidelined again Sunday with the same hamstring injury that’s kept him out the past two weeks.

• There were no new injuries. Along with the aforementioned injuries, Kenjon Barner (foot), Jonathan Stewart (ankle), Mike Tolbert (hamstring), Ben Hartsock (foot), Frank Kearse (knee), Joe Adams (calf) and Jeff Byers (undisclosed) did not participate Sunday.

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

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