CHARLOTTE — The Panthers started the year changing kickers, and that’s how they’re finishing it.
The Panthers put Zane Gonzalez on injured reserve Wednesday because of a quad injury suffered in pregame warm-ups Sunday in Buffalo.
The freak injury kept him from playing, forcing wide receiver Brandon Zylstra to kick off and for the offense to go for more fourth downs and two-point conversions than they ordinarily would.
Signed in September off the Lions practice squad to become their third kicker since the start of the preseason (following Joey Slye and Ryan Santoso), Gonzalez quickly established himself as someone they wanted to hang onto. After a Week 4 missed field goal in Dallas, he responded by hitting 17 straight field goals, a streak he’ll now carry into the offseason.
Gonzalez will be an unrestricted free agent.
To replace him on the roster, the Panthers signed kicker Lirim Hajrullahu off the Washington Football Team practice squad. The Panthers signed him to the practice squad last December, but he was waived six days later because of an issue with his work visa.
A native of Kosovo, he was an all-star in the CFL. The 31-year-old has kicked in one NFL regular season game, hitting all five PATs in a game for the Cowboys earlier this year. Because he was signed off a practice squad, he’s guaranteed a check for the final three weeks of the season.
The Panthers also signed kicker Alex Kessman to the practice squad, giving them another option this week.
Kessman has a strong leg, and was 12-of-18 on field goals of 50 yards or longer last year for Pitt. He was 69-96 (71.9 percent) on all field goals in college.
He went to camp with the Chargers this summer and spent a week with the Jets this year, but missed a pair of extra points in his one regular season game.
The Panthers also placed a pair of players on the reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday, safety Sam Franklin Jr. and defensive end Azur Kamara. Kamara was just claimed off waivers from the Cowboys Tuesday.