Starter at defensive tackle injured on the first day of training camp and might miss the season.
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SPARTANBURG - The Carolina Panthers played their first 14 games last season without a defensive player missing a start.
Less than a half hour had passed in the first training camp practice Monday morning when starting defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu went down with a torn Achilles tendon.
General manager Marty Hurney said it wasn't yet known how long Kemoeatu will be out, although it's almost certain an injury that severe means he will miss the season. Hurney said an announcement on Kemoeatu's status should come today.
Surgery hasn't yet been scheduled for Kemoeatu, who was carted off the field, laying on his back. He was later taken to Charlotte.
“We have to figure out what the next step is,” Hurney said. “You never like to lose anybody to an injury for any amount of time. But we also know the reality of it. Injuries happen, which is why we put so much effort into trying to have depth on our roster. We have young guys who have to step up.”
The injury, however, hit at one of the Panthers' most vulnerable positions. The only backup defensive tackle with any playing experience is second-year man Nick Hayden, who appeared in two games last season. Undrafted rookie free-agent Marlon Favorite took Kemoeatu's place with the first team in practice.
The Panthers might be forced to sign a veteran replacement. Among available free agents is former New York Jets first-round pick Dewayne Robertson, who played for Denver last season.
Kemoeatu is one of the Panthers' most important players defending the run. At 6-foot-5, 345 pounds, he not only makes tackles (40 last season), he also takes up blockers to clear the way for Pro Bowl middle linebacker Jon Beason.
“That's one of my bodyguards, him and Damione” (Lewis), said Beason.
“Obviously, a guy of his size, being 350-plus, you need two guys to block him. So there's two guys, which is one less guy for me. It allows me to be free and run and make more plays.”
He said his job without Kemoeatu is much more difficult.
“A guy they don't respect as much, if they single-block him, I'll have to deal with more guards and centers and fullbacks,” he said.
Beason said the Panthers were in a pursuit drill when Kemoeatu was injured.
“Injuries are part of this game,” coach John Fox said. “In camp, we get guys (that) things happen to. With a coach, it's a fine line. One of the hard things about camp is you've got to get ready to play football, yet you want to make sure you've got some guys to play football with.”
Favorite (6-1, 317 pounds) started 17 of 30 games at Louisiana State, recording 78 tackles and four sacks. He is a former USA Today high school All-American.
Favorite said it was “a shocking experience” to be thrust into playing with the first team, but he came to training camp expecting the unexpected.
“It's how the game is,” he said. “You never know what's going to happen.
“On my part, what I'm going to do is every day go out there and get better … (and) keep Maake in my prayers. Obviously, this was devastating to the whole team.”