Panthers' Kealoha Pilares Questionable, Armanti Edwards Could Get Double Duty

Jimmy GrapponeCorrespondent IDecember 3, 2011

Panthers' rookie kick-returner Kealoha Pilares is No. 2 in the NFL in kick returns.
Panthers' rookie kick-returner Kealoha Pilares is No. 2 in the NFL in kick returns.Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Carolina Panthers' (3-8) breakout special teams performer in the month of November, rookie kick returner Kealoha Pilares, is listed as questionable for this weekend's Week 13 game on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7) with a quadriceps injury.

Pilares, who set the Panthers' all-time record with a 101-yard kick return for touchdown in Week 11 against the Detroit Lions (7-4) has rejuvenated a struggling special teams group late in the season and is the leading kick-returner in the NFC at 29.3 yards per attempt.

The return against the Lions was the first of its kind for the Panthers since Rod "He Hate Me" Smart of XFL fame returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in 2003.

Pilares followed up his Week 11 performance with a 76-yard return last week against the Indianapolis Colts (0-11) before he was tackled by Indy's kicker, Pat "Antivirus" McAfee who saved the touchdown.

Pilares looked gassed at the end of both big returns. With no official news from the Panthers about the cause or seriousness of his quad injury, it's easy to speculate he may have strained the quad during the record-setting return in Detroit.

Pilares is listed as DNP, or "Did Not Practice" for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, but he was spotted on the practice field with his team at the start of Thursday's session and he appeared to be working on his mobility with the trainers before the practice was closed for game preparation.


Double Duty for Edwards?

If Pilares does not play Sunday against the Bucs, it could mean returning kickoffs and punts for Armanti Edwards. If he catches a kickoff in the front five yards of the end zone, expect him to bring it out and run as hard as he can.

Edwards has struggled to improve the Panthers' starting field position through the punt-return game, though he did break a 50-plus yarder with a decisive run against the Colts before the play was called back for an illegal block in the back.

Edwards said earlier this week that he welcomes the opportunity to return kicks and will keep on trying to break one, but he is currently ranked 27th in the NFL with a 6.0 yard average.

To put that number in perspective, league-leader Devin Hester averages three-times more than Edwards at 18.3 yards per return.


Kealoha > Armanti

In the battle for the coolest first name on the Panthers, I'm not sure who would win between Pilares and Edwards. Legedu "L.A." Naanee may even have something to say about it.

However, in terms of impact for a couple of smallish receivers who are trying to establish themselves as special-teamers and hope to eventually join the wideout corps as a No. 2 or slot receiver, Pilares has the edge based on his recent production.

Pilares had an outstanding senior season at Hawaii in 2010, catching 88 passes for 1,306 yards and 15 touchdowns, and he looked like a "baby" Steve Smith in a couple of preseason games.

Edwards, who played quarterback in a brilliant career at FCS powerhouse Appalachian State, has struggled to transition to the wideout position at the NFL level and many regard his selection in the third round of the 2010 draft as a wasted pick.

Edwards needs to make the most of every opportunity he has for the rest of the season if we wants to remain a Panther in 2012.

Game time between the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers is at 1 p.m. and will be aired on FOX.