It's time for Brandon LaFell to start

The Carolina Panthers could have a shakeup in their starting lineup Sunday and this one might be overdue.

Receiver Legedu Naanee (Achilles tendinitis) missed his second straight day of practice Friday. That could clear the way for second-year pro Brandon LaFell to get his first start of the season.

Even before Naanee’s injury, a lot of Carolina fans wondered why he continued to start ahead of LaFell, a third-round pick last year. I’ve been wondering the same thing since LaFell has shown some promise in a backup role and the veteran Naanee never has been a standout.

Maybe the coaching staff didn’t think LaFell was ready to start. But the Panthers are in a position where it’s time to find out what they have in LaFell. Carolina obviously isn’t going to the playoffs and it’s time to take an extended look at some young players.

LaFell is the classic example of that. Even if Naanee gets healthy, the Panthers should start LaFell the rest of the year. The coaches need to know if LaFell can be the starter opposite Steve Smith. At the very least they want to find out if he can be a good No. 3 receiver if David Gettis returns from injury and claims the starting job next season.

Along those same lines, starting LaFell the rest of the season could allow the Panthers to give more playing time to rookie Kealoha Pilares and second-year pro Armanti Edwards. Those two have been used almost exclusively in the return game.

The Panthers knew Edwards was going to be a project when they drafted the former college quarterback last year. They thought he could develop into an explosive return man and wide receiver.

So far, Edwards has been just a return man and not a great one. The Panthers need to start taking a look at Edwards as a wide receiver even if it’s just in spot duty. If Edwards can show a little promise, he’ll come to training camp next year with a chance to be a contributor at receiver.

If he doesn’t show much promise, Edwards might not even be with the Panthers when training camp rolls around.

The Panthers also said linebacker Omar Gaither is doubtful for Sunday’s game with Indianapolis.