SHARECOMMENTMORE

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Panthers coach Ron Rivera believes the return of players from injured reserve could have a huge impact on team's success in 2012.

Carolina placed a franchise-record 18 players on injured reserve last year, including a handful of starters.

Rivera says he's hoping for big contributions from returning players such as defensive tackle Ron Edwards, linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, wide receiver David Gettis and offensive tackle Jeff Otah, all of whom were lost early in the year to season-ending injuries.

After last year's spending spree to re-sign core players, Carolina isn't in position to be big player in free agency.

Their prize free agents may be the ones who return from crutches.

Rivera says "that's really key for us to get those guys back on the field."