The Carolina Panthers have placed former first-round draft pick and starting right tackle Jeff Otah on injured reserve for the third time in four seasons.
Otah has been struggling with back and knee issues stemming from two prior knee surgeries. The Panthers decided to shut him down for the season to give him time to rest and fully recover, sensing he wasn’t getting any better. He missed last week’s game against Atlanta because of back problems.
Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said Otah will not need surgery.
”I think we want to make sure that we give him time to strengthen that knee as much as it can be,” Hurney said.
By the end of this season, Otah will have missed 35 games due to injuries while starting just 29.
Undrafted rookie Byron Bell, who has started twice this season in place of Otah at right tackle, is expected to start Sunday against the Washington Redskins. If Bell struggles, the Panthers could move left guard Travelle Wharton out to right tackle.
The team has added veteran offensive lineman Reggie Wells to replace Otah on the roster.
”Knee injuries, every time they’re operated on, they’re significant,” Hurney said. ”It’s just getting that knee to the strength it needs to be and to not cause other problems and to get it strong as it can.”
Weight issues also have contributed to Otah’s back and knee problems.
Although he’s listed at 330 pounds, his weight has fluctuated, at times reaching in excess of 350 pounds.
As for Otah’s back issues, Hurney said, ”Anytime the knee is weak that could definitely lead to other problems.”
Otah’s problems first began in December of 2009 when he tore the meniscus in his left knee. He had surgery and was placed on injured reserve, missing the final three games.
He was expected to back at full strength in 2010, but a minor arthroscopic knee operation during training camp wound up keeping him out all of last year.
He participated in most of training camp this year and started four games, but conditioning issues prompted the Panthers to replace him at various points during games with Bell.
Otah’s contract runs through the 2012 season. He’s due to make slightly more than $1 million next season.
Hurney said he believes Otah will be back.
”I think we’re confident and I think he’s confident that he can work and get it stronger and the future will be bright,” Hurney said.