CHARLOTTE -- Panthers defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu said Wednesday he should be feeling close to 100 percent by the time he gets to New Orleans this weekend.
Fellow starter Damione Lewis didn't sound so confident.
The Panthers were without both their starters in practice Wednesday, with Kemoeatu (ankle) and Lewis (shoulder) on the sidelines.
That left them with 31-year-old Darwin Walker and a pair of guys who were on practice squads this time last week -- Nick Hayden and J'Vonne Parker, who was signed from Atlanta on Tuesday.
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Getting both back would be huge, but getting one's imperative, since Walker's 10 games in Charlotte makes him the seasoned veteran of the bunch.
"I think it's very important for the simple fact that we're the guys with all the experience," Lewis said. "You got Darwin who's an experienced guy, so if Maake plays, I don't think we lose that much with Darwin. He's a proven guy, he's been in the league for nine years and done a great job -- has to to be around this long."
The way Lewis referred to Kemoeatu's availability made it sound like he wasn't sure of his own. He said his arm got caught between a pulling guard and a tackle early in the fourth quarter. He tried coming back out, but after a false start penalty was called, he left without taking another snap.
"It's feeling a lot better," Lewis said. "Not near as sore as it was Monday. Just got to work on it and get my strength up and see what happens."
Kemoeatu was singing a far different tune. Most players will hedge as long as they can, but he said his ankle and Achilles were feeling much better after some drills during practice.
• SO THAT'S THE PROBLEM: The Panthers' secondary knows Saints quarterback Drew Brees is going to test their secondary. There's no word yet on whether that means extra time in front of the Jugs machine working on their suspect hands.
Cornerback Ken Lucas was asked that Wednesday, but he said he and cornerbacks Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall had excuses.
"I see you got jokes, huh?" cornerback Ken Lucas said when asked whether they'd catch extra balls to prepare. "I mean, that's crazy. I think it really has been the fact me Gam and Rich all have hand problems. My finger has been sprained all season long, and I think Gam's had a couple of sprained fingers all season long. So I'm going to go blame it on that as the reason we've been dropping so many interceptions.
"It's been a very disappointing season from the interception aspect, of having an opportunity to get them but we've been putting them on the ground. We have one game left to get better at that."
It was then mentioned to Lucas that Fox usually doesn't like players talking about injuries."
• HO, HO, HUT: Wednesday was a normal workday for the Panthers, though they're adjusting their schedule a bit to accommodate some holiday that seems to be happening today.
Players were given a little extra time this morning to watch their kids open presents, but then it was in to work mid-morning. Afternoon meetings were also postponed until Friday morning, to give them more of the day to spend with family and friends.
Quarterback Jake Delhomme said he was impressed with the way the Panthers worked Wednesday, knowing how easy it is to be distracted this time of year.
"You saw it on the practice field today," Delhomme said. "Certainly, I know Christmas is tomorrow and you can get lost. Guys' focus can wander a little bit. I didn't feel that out there today."
Friday's going to be a heavier day than normal, but most of that's classroom and film work rather than a heavy practice.
• EXTRA POINTS: In addition to the middle of the defensive line, the Panthers had three others out of Wednesday's work. Wide receivers Muhsin Muhammad (foot) and Kenny Moore (hamstring) and tight end Jeff King (knee) were on the shelf.
There was a ray of hope for the defensive line. Rookie end Hilee Taylor (calf) was back after missing the last three weeks. They'll take the help. If nothing else, they could use him to spell Tyler Brayton and Charles Johnson, since they've been rotating inside because of the injury shortages.