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Panthers looking to get TE Olsen, C Kalil back on field

(AP Photo/Mike McCarn, File)

By STEVE REED

AP Sports Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) The Carolina Panther could get two key players back for the stretch run.

Tight end Greg Olsen and center Ryan Kalil returned to practice Monday following the team's bye week and could play Sunday against the New York Jets.

Coach Ron Rivera said the return of Olsen and Kalil would be a "big boost" for the Panthers (7-3), who trail New Orleans by one game in the NFC South with six games remaining. But he indicated Olsen is further along in his rehab than Kalil.

Olsen has missed the last eight games with a broken foot, but said Monday he felt good.

"I don't know if I was breaking any records out there, but it was a good start," Olsen said. "Just getting your rhythm down, your cutting in and out of breaks."

Olsen has been saying for weeks the plan is to be ready to play against the Jets, the first game he is eligible to return from injured reserve.

Olsen is one of Cam Newton's favorite targets in the passing game. He led Carolina in receptions the last two seasons and is the only tight end in NFL history to put together three straight 1,000-yard seasons. He also is considered a valuable blocker in the run game and is in on almost every offensive snap.

"I would love to pick back up where I left off and play every snap and catch 10 balls - that would be great," Olsen said. "Maybe that happens. I'll try. But that doesn't necessarily mean that's going to happen. There are going to be things I can do by being out there with helping other guys get open and little things like that."

Kalil said after practice that his neck felt "the best it has felt all season."

Kalil's 11th NFL season has been a frustrating one.

He was looking forward to playing with his brother, left tackle Matt Kalil, who signed as a free agent earlier this year. But Kalil injured his neck after the team's season opener and missed the next five games. He returned to the lineup in Week 7, but played only one quarter before re-injuring the neck.

Tyler Larsen has been filling in for Kalil at center.

"We play football for a living, so when you can't do that it's extremely frustrating," Kalil said. "Not being able to get out there and play with this team is tough. I'm just very glad the Panthers gave me an opportunity to stay in it and get back out there."

The Panthers also could bring back wide receiver Damiere Byrd from injured reserve next week. That appears to be a strong possibility after Carolina lost starting wide receiver Curtis Samuel to a season-ending ankle injury before the bye week. Like Samuel, Byrd is considered a deep threat with good speed.

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Updated November 20, 2017

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