Hurting Panthers sign DB Strait

Updated: December 12, 2006, 3:16 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

With starting cornerbacks Ken Lucas and Chris Gamble still battling injuries, and their status for Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers uncertain, the Carolina Panthers have claimed veteran defensive back Derrick Strait on waivers.

The much-traveled three-year veteran was released by the Chicago Bears. To make room for Strait on the roster, the Panthers placed cornerback Christian Morton on injured reserve with a strained hamstring. Morton started for the Panthers in last Sunday's loss to the New York Giants.

Given the injury situation in the Carolina secondary, it's conceivable that Strait could serve as the nickel cornerback for Sunday's home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The floundering Panthers played last weekend's game without Lucas and Gamble, both of whom were inactive for the key NFC contest. Lucas has been slowed by injuries much of the year. Gamble suffered a hamstring injury during last Friday's practice. The availability of the two cornerbacks for the Pittsburgh game won't be clarified until Wednesday at the earliest, when the first injury report is filed.

Coach John Fox, whose team has lost three straight outings and is in peril of falling out of the wild card race, acknowledged the injuries in the secondary have been disruptive. In addition to the cornerbacks, safety Mike Minter has been playing with a balky knee.

"Because guys aren't practicing," Fox said, "it makes it hard going into a game. You're trying to move people around, put them into situations they haven't been in, just trying to make some pieces fit. And then, when you have injuries late in the week, like [with Gamble], you're really scrambling."

Strait, 26, has played in 27 games in his career. The former Oklahoma standout was a third-round choice of the New York Jets in the 2004 draft. New York traded him to Cleveland this summer for tailback Lee Suggs, but the deal was voided when Suggs failed a Jets' physical exam. Strait was subsequently released, then played two games for Chicago before being cut.

He has 66 tackles and one pass defensed for his career, and has lined up at cornerback and safety.

This has been a difficult season for Lucas, who has suffered through shoulder, groin and hamstring injuries, and who appears to have lost his starting job at right cornerback to standout rookie Richard Marshall. A second-round pick from Fresno State, Marshall has started the past three games and has three interceptions.

Coming off a strong 2005 campaign when both performed with a physical style that set the tone for the Carolina defense, most observers felt this would be a breakout season for Lucas and Gamble.

But Lucas, who signed a six-year, $36.5 million contract with the Panthers as an unrestricted free agent in 2005, had problems early in the season with his tackling, and was benched. After grabbing 13 interceptions in his first two seasons, Gamble has been inconsistent in coverage this season and has only two pickoffs. The Panthers' first-round selection in the 2004 draft, Gamble surrendered three touchdown passes in a two-game stretch before missing last Sunday's contest.

In addition to injuries, the Carolina secondary was also diluted when Reggie Howard, who was to have been the nickel cornerback, was forced to leave the team early in the season for personal reasons.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.