Veteran center Ryan Kalil showed some progress, with the ability to make contact against hit pads during gap drills with guards, in Carolina’s second practice of training camp Thursday afternoon.
But Kalil is still not fully cleared after having surgery on his shoulder last season. He said earlier this week he believes he will be fully ready to go by the first week of the season.
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On Thursday, it became clear that either backup center Gino Gradkowski was not yet at full health, either, or that third-string center Tyler Larsen had leapfrogged him in the lineup.
Larsen participated in the gap drills as well with what appeared to be the first- and second-team guards and tackles, while Gradkowski was on the other field with practice squad and third-string players. Larsen also went in for Kalil during team drills in lieu of Gradkowski.
“It’s all a part of it, we’re working the whole group in,” said head coach Ron Rivera after practice. “Remember, Gino is coming off knee surgery as well, and Ryan is coming off the shoulder. So that means Tyler is going to get a lot more reps right now. As both of those guys get stronger and healthier, we’ll increase their workload as well.”
Rivera added that Gradkowski is still limited, but “he’s doing what he can.”
But Larsen proved to be very effective last season, when he was signed in the middle of Carolina’s week-long West Coast road trip after Gradkowski, filling in for an injured Kalil, also went down. Carolina may still keep three centers on the roster when September comes around based on the injury history for Kalil and Gradkowski. But Larsen’s potential as an immediate backup is clear – and he has experience at guard for further depth.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton made fan Kisher Rankin Spearman's day when he gave her his cleats autographed following the team's practice Thursday. Jeff Siner/The Charlotte Observer