CHARLOTTE -- Panthers right tackle Jeff Otah said Wednesday he's feeling better, and hopes to be able to go this weekend against New Orleans after missing two straight games.
The rookie has been bothered by a high right ankle sprain, similar to one he had on the left side last year at Pitt. He played through that injury, never missing a game, but he showed the effects later in the year.
Asked if he ever considered taking some time to get well his senior season, Otah shrugged, trying to be careful not to insult his old backups there.
"Last year, the guys behind me ... I wanted to help my team win, coach (Dave) Wannstedt wanted me to fight through it," Otah said. "Our secondary guys weren't ... it's not like the league where everybody's good and anybody can step up at any time. They needed me, and I wanted to help out."
The NFL Panthers knew about the college injury when they were evaluating him, and while they might not have appreciated the risk he was putting himself at, they at least admired Otah's team attitude.
"He's a tough guy," general manager Marty Hurney said of Otah. "We knew it was something he was dealing with most of the year."
Otah said he never thought about the damage to his draft stock he might have incurred by playing hurt. He wasn't fully recovered when he went to the scouting combine and ran his 40-yard dash in 5.55 seconds, though he backed that up with a 5.28 and a 5.31 two months later. Again, whatever points he lost for being slow were made up with the respect he gained by working out.
In Charlotte, however, they're trying to protect him from making anything worse. He practiced last Thursday and Friday but was deactivated for the loss at Tampa Bay. He was able to work Wednesday and said he was encouraged afterward.
"It's the same, I had it last year, but the trainers are trying to be smart," he said when asked to compare his ability to play with the problem. "They didn't want me to injure it more to where it's going to affect me the whole season. Trying to be smart, get it right and get ready to be out there."
• BUT IS IT WHAT IT IS? Every now and then, coach John Fox likes to try out a new cliché and add it to his arsenal.
It's obvious that the latest is an extension of his fallback "it is what it is," line.
Asked about the Panthers' running game, Fox replied: "It's a 4-2 running game. It's not bad. It's not a 2-4 running game. It's not an 0-6 running game. Like any area of our football team, we've not arrived yet. It's something that's a work in process."
Asked about the play of defensive end Julius Peppers: "Good, 4-2. Our body of work is not done yet. I think he's played very well for us, good enough for us to be 4-2. I think right now we are the third-ranked defense in the league, and I think he's been a big part of that."
On being a 4-2 coach, he laughed, adding: "Could be 2-4. Could be 6-0. It's never perfect. I don't think it will ever be."
• EXTRA POINTS: Wide receiver D.J. Hackett (MCL sprain) was the only Panther to miss practice Wednesday, and he's expected to miss another week or so.
Fox described him as "in between week-to-week and day-to-day."
Along with Otah, four others were listed as limited: Wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad (knee), center Ryan Kalil (ankle) and linebackers Thomas Davis (ankle) and Adam Seward (thigh). ...
New Orleans had a more extensive report, with six players out, including five starters. Missing were running back Reggie Bush, guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans, defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis and cornerback Mike McKenzie. The Saints downplayed Bush's inclusion. Listed as limited on their report were wide receiver Marquis Colston and tight end Jeremy Shockey. ...
Despite the unseasonably hot weather, the Panthers offense was wearing black jerseys Wednesday. That's because each week in practice, the offense wears what color they'll have on that Sunday. It's supposed to cool off considerably before the entire team wears the black for the first time this season Sunday.