CHARLOTTE -- Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil will miss the final two preseason games with a sprained left knee suffered in Saturday night's game against the Miami Dolphins.
Head coach Ron Rivera said an MRI showed "just a sprain," and he is hopeful the four-time Pro-Bowl star will return in time for the season opener 20 days from Monday.
"He's very valuable to us obviously, so we are going to approach this cautiously," Rivera said. "We're going to be smart this week and then take a look at it going into the next couple weeks. The whole idea being what we want to do when we get to Jacksonville."
The injury could be much worse considering what happened. After Kalil snapped the ball on second-and-goal from the 1-yard line, his left foot was rolled up on by 310-pound defensive tackle Earl Mitchell.
Although he was in obvious pain, Kalil stayed in for two more plays. After trainers put ice on his leg, Kalil left the field before halftime and never returned.
Kalil was not on the practice field when the Panthers went back to work here Monday afternoon. In his absence, Brian Folkerts and Mike Remmers split first-team snaps at center.
"He's our fearless leader so I'm always completely confident in him that he'll make the right decision on whenever he's ready to go," Remmers said.
--Because linebacker Shaq Thompson missed the preseason opener with a sore hamstring, fans hadn't seen much of their first-round pick until Saturday. They probably liked what they saw.
A series after Thompson made a touchdown-saving tackle near the goal line, he broke up a 40-yard pass intended for Dolphins tight end Jordan Cameron.
"We did some different things with him. We put him in different situations. One thing that impressed me was his ability to cover," Rivera said. "We saw the explosiveness. He's as advertised."
--Through two preseason games, no one has carved out a place in Panthers fans' hearts like running back Brandon Wegher.
The undrafted free agent is the only running back on the roster to find the end zone, and he's done that three times. Plus, he's also the only back with a tackle on special teams.
"He most certainly is going to make it tough on us," Rivera said after Wegher sparked a Carolina comeback for a second straight week. "We're going to have to figure who our 53 are. He really is deserving of our attention right now."
Before training camp, Wegher appeared on the outside looking in at a roster spot. Because the Panthers will likely keep four running backs, sitting fifth on the depth chart would make a guy potential practice-squad material. But Wegher may be making too good of an impression. Another team could snatch him up if the Panthers put him on waivers.
But if he gets in, who goes out?
Not Jonathan Stewart. Fifth-round pick Cameron Artis-Payne is also a lock. That leaves Fozzy Whittaker and Jordan Todman.
Whittaker began camp as the No. 2 back, but Todman is the No. 1 kick returner. Judging by how the group has looked in Spartanburg and the preseason, Wegher's rise has put Whittaker at risk.
"We've got a good group of backs. They're very competitive," Rivera said. "I'm excited about these guys. They're going to give us a lot of options and make for some tough conversations."
Notes: Wide receiver Devin Funchess appeared ready to practice Monday, but he worked on the side with trainers instead. ...Tight end Richie Brockel left Saturday's game early with a shoulder injury. Rivera said Monday that Brockel had a "sore" shoulder. ... Defensive end Charles Johnson is still nursing a sore calf and may miss the final two preseason games. ... Defensive end Frank Alexander, who tore his Achilles' tendon Saturday, was waived/injured. The Panthers filled his roster spot with tight end Dallas Walker. ... Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who suffered a stress reaction in his foot during the first week of camp, remains in a walking boot. The Panthers remain hopeful he'll be ready to play in the opener. ...Defensive back Colin Jones hasn't been on the field since Wednesday because of a groin injury.