Carolina Panthers

Defensive leaders injured during practice

SPARTANBURG -- On a day when the Carolina Panthers started filling in the middle of their defensive line, they found themselves without the heart of their defense by the end of the day.

Second-year middle linebacker Jon Beason left the morning practice with a sprained ankle, and spent the rest of the session in the trainer's tent.

Then during the non-padded night practice, safety Chris Harris had to be hauled off with a large bag of ice strapped to his leg. Team officials called it a "leg muscle strain."

There's a sense that neither injury is serious, but when you're talking about the leaders of the defense, any missed time is going to hurt.

In Beason's absence, the Panthers used rookie Dan Connor in the middle. Backup Adam Seward (abdominal) was out of practice again, taking away the first option there. They could also use Landon Johnson in there, but he's spent most of his time outside.

Terrence Holt worked in Harris' place after he was carted off.

Otherwise, the injury news appeared mostly good.

Starting defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu and backup Darwin Walker returned to the field after missing most of the last week.

They're still missing backup Ian Scott (sprained left medial collateral ligament) for another few weeks, while starter Damione Lewis has said he's close for the last week. He tried working last Thursday, but wasn't able to make it through an entire practice.

• VINCENT LOOKING RIGHT: One of the more intriguing, if overlooked, position battles in training camp is for the starting right guard job.

While reclamation project Toniu Fonoti got a lot of the early looks, Keydrick Vincent has hung onto the starting post for now. If you're looking for signs, they've even shifted Fonoti from right guard to left with the second team.

The 30-year-old Vincent is the epitome of solid, having logged 49 starts in seven seasons. But he's been getting a push inside here, and lends some veteran credence next to 21-year-old rookie right tackle Jeff Otah.

• CARTER COUNTRY: With Steve Smith's suspension pending, and Ryne Robinson still on the mend from last week's knee problem, Jason Carter's getting more opportunities to prove himself.

The former practice-squader is getting all of Robinson's work on punt returns, and impressing coaches with his play on offense.

"Sometimes setbacks and adversity are opportunities for other people," Panthers coach John Fox said. "It happens in this league all the time with every team, and that's the challenge to our team. Other guys have got to step up, as well as other guys have got to take advantage of opportunities. We've got 80 guys out here trying to make a roster of 53, and we're evaluating as we move forward by practicing daily.

"He caught my eye last year. Albeit the practice squad, developmental squad, whatever name you want to put on it, it's an opportunity for guys to learn and participate in the National Football League. I think he worked very hard and got better as the season went on, and we'll see what kind of dividends that brings here in this camp."

• EXTRA POINTS: Other players missing practice time Monday included tight end Dante Rosario (hamstring) and safety Nate Salley (hip), along with the previously injured Scott, Robinson and cornerback Ken Lucas (nose).