Maake Kemoeatu lasted fewer than 30 minutes in Carolina's first training camp practice Monday before tearing his right Achilles' tendon, leaving the Panthers in disarray at the position where they entered with the least depth.
The mammoth defensive tackle's Achilles' tendon snapped while he was running in a non-contact position drill. He was carted to the locker room, then taken to Charlotte, where the tear was discovered Monday night.
General manager Marty Hurney was given the news as the team was on the field for Monday's second workout. He had few details and refused to say Kemoeatu would for sure be placed on injured reserve.
However, that injury takes several months to heal, likely ending his season.
"Obviously he's disappointed. That's understandable," Hurney said. "I talked to him after it was done. Just like anybody it's a hard thing to deal with."
The 6-foot-5, 345-pound Kemoeatu was the key cog in Carolina's run defense, often drawing double teams and opening up lanes for speedy middle linebacker Jon Beason to make plays.
His absence is compounded by Carolina's lack of depth. Handicapped by the salary cap gobbling $16.7 million contract defensive end Julius Peppers is playing this season under the franchise tag, the Panthers did not sign a single unrestricted free agent from another team. Backup defensive tackle Darwin Walker also wasn't re-signed.
The Panthers threw undrafted rookie Marlon Favorite in Kemoeatu's position in the morning practice. Second-year pro Nick Hayden, who filled in for an injured Kemoeatu last season when the New York Giants rushed for 301 yards in an overtime win, was there in the second workout.
The Panthers will likely attempt to sign a veteran defensive tackle.
"We have some young guys that will have to step up," Hurney said. "We'll look at this and figure out what our next step will be in the next few days."
It was a poor beginning for the Panthers and new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks, who also watched Beason tweak a left hamstring in the morning practice. Beason, who sat out the second practice, insisted the injury wasn't serious and will return soon.
Before the severity of Kemoeatu's injury was known, Beason praised the eight-year pro for helping him become Carolina's leading tackler the past two seasons.
"It's like night and day. That New York game, it was bad. However you look at it, it's embarrassing," Beason said. "We know we're a lot better than that. To allow a team to rush for 300 yards is unacceptable. ... But it was a good experience for those young guys. Obviously they weren't as consistent as those vets, but they had some pretty good plays, too."
The Panthers signed Kemoeatu in 2006 after he played his first five seasons in Baltimore.