Knee, back issues land Panthers' Otah on injured reserve again

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers have placed former first-round draft pick and starting right tackle Jeff Otah on injured reserve for the third time in four seasons.

Otah has been struggling with back and knee issues stemming from two prior knee surgeries. The Panthers decided to shut him down for the season to give him time to rest and fully recover, sensing he wasn't getting any better. He missed last week's game against Atlanta because of back problems.

Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said Wednesday Otah will not need surgery.

"I think we want to make sure that we give him time to strengthen that knee as much as it can be," Hurney said.

By the end of this season, Otah will have missed 35 games due to injuries while starting just 29.

Undrafted rookie Byron Bell, who has started twice this season in place of Otah at right tackle, is expected to start Sunday against the Redskins. If Bell struggles, the Panthers could move left guard Travelle Wharton out to right tackle.

The team has added veteran offensive lineman Reggie Wells to the roster.

"Knee injuries, every time they're operated on, they're significant," Hurney said. "It's just getting that knee to the strength it needs to be and to not cause other problems and to get it strong as it can."

Weight issues may have contributed to Otah's back and knee problems. He reported to training camp at 355 pounds, about 25 pounds more than his listed weight in the media guide.

Rivera said Otah got down to 338 pounds with the help of the team's conditioning staff. He said players not being allowed to workout with team trainers this offseason because of the NFL lockout hurt Otah's chances of getting back healthy this year.

"It was disappointing," Rivera said of the decision. "It started with the back and then as things progressed the knee started bothering him. This to me speaks the importance of having offseason programs and having a guy around where he can rehabilitate and get ready to play."

NOTES: Rivera said Jason Phillips will start in place of Jason Williams this Sunday against Washington at outside linebacker and added the team may mix up its defensive line rotation after allowing Michael Turner to rush for 139 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday's 31-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. ... Rookie cornerback Brandon Hogan practiced Wednesday for the first time with the Panthers. They have three weeks to decide whether or not to activate Hogan from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Hogan tore his ACL last December while playing for West Virginia. ... Tight end Greg Olsen was held out of practice with a turf toe injury, but is expected to return to work Thursday, Rivera said. Also, linebacker Thomas Williams and safety Jordan Pugh were held out with concussions, while linebacker Omar Gaither remains sidelined with a sprained MCL in his knee.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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