Hollis Thomas, Carolina's latest attempt to fill its giant hole at defensive tackle, had just finished his first practice with the Panthers Thursday when he was asked what he would bring to his new team.

Standing with his helmet off and his belly spilling over the top of his pants, the 6-foot, 340-pound Thomas didn't hesitate.

"A little levity, a little thickness in the middle," he replied.

Winless and desperate to find anybody to help stop the run, the Panthers were willing to take a chance with the 35-year-old portly humorist. A day after he was released by St. Louis, the Panthers signed the 14-year veteran and released rookie Ra'Shon Harris.

"He's got a lot of experience. I think right now we're young there," coach John Fox said. "He's played the game at this level for some time. A lot of this is how to play. I think he'll help us immensely in that area."

Thomas is the latest to pass through Carolina's tackle turnstile since top run-stuffer Maake Kemoeatu ruptured his Achilles tendon less than 30 minutes into the first practice of training camp.

The Panthers first alternated second-year pro Nick Hayden and undrafted rookie Marlon Favorite at that nose tackle spot. Neither was effective and Favorite was waived in final cuts.

The team then claimed the undrafted Harris off waivers from Pittsburgh. That came after the Panthers acquired Louis Leonard from Cleveland for a 2010 late-round draft pick.

Leonard started Carolina's Week 2 loss to Atlanta, but broke his ankle on the final defensive play of the game and was lost for the season.

Hayden, who has been slowed with a toe injury, was back as the starter Monday in Dallas, when the Cowboys rushed for 212 yards despite being without Marion Barber.

Through three weeks and three losses, the Panthers are allowing 182.7 yards rushing per game, 29th in the NFL.

So they turned to Thomas, who spent his first 10 seasons in Philadelphia as an on-and-off starter. He was then traded to New Orleans where he spent three seasons, interrupted by a four-game suspension in 2006 for testing positive for a banned substance.

Thomas visited with the Panthers in the middle of last season as he recovered from a torn triceps before the Saints re-signed him. He then signed with St. Louis in the offseason.

Thomas said he was a poor fit with the Rams, where he had four tackles in three games while playing only on short-yardage and goal-line situations.

"I got the opportunity to go through a training camp with St. Louis and see if I could still play 3-technique. I really can't," Thomas said. "It was good to come back and play some nose guard."

Thomas left one 0-3 team to join another. But this club is in dire need of an effective, veteran tackle. A colorful distraction won't hurt, either.

"Everybody won't be focusing on the other fat guys," Thomas said. "They'll focus on the new fat guy."