PANTHERS NOTEBOOK: Panthers ready to be at full strength vs. Knoxville

Panthers fullback Derrick Wimbush is one of several Panthers who needed the bye week to get healthy.

Panthers fullback Derrick Wimbush is one of several Panthers who needed the bye week to get healthy.

ALBANY — They’re at full strength — at least for now.

The Panthers, who were involved in an altercation with the Alabama Hammers in their last game on May 19, are planning on being at full strength on Saturday night when they host the Knoxville Nighthawks at the Albany Civic Center.

“There have been no fines and no suspensions,’’ Panthers general manager Will Carter said Thursday afternoon.

But that could change before Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. kickoff.

The Professional Indoor Football League issued a statement from Jeff Gonos, the compliance director of the PIFL on Wednesday saying: “We hope to be able to release a statement in the next couple of days.’’

That doesn’t mean there will be fines and suspensions. It simply means the league has yet to announce its decision.

That could be a good sign for the Panthers, because the incident occurred two weeks ago, and the league has had ample time to penalize the teams involved. It wouldn’t seem fair or logical for the league to wait until the last minute to suspend players and make teams adjust at the 12th hour.

A BREAK AT JUST THE RIGHT TIME: One thing is certain: The Panthers will enter Saturday’s game with some much-needed rest — rest that gives even more emphasis to the term “being at full strength.’’

After ripping off an 8-1 record — the best in the PIFL — the Panthers had a bye week last week, and everyone on the team appreciated the down time.

“We needed the bye week bad, real bad,’’ Panthers coach Lucious Davis said at practice on Thursday. “We had a lot of guys who were banged up.’’

The list reads almost like a who’s who on the Panthers as quarterback Cecil Lester (knee), defensive back Damian Daniels (groin), receiver Clenton Rafe (hamstring), runningback Derrick Wimbush (knee) and linebacker Ryan Babb (knee) head the list of those who needed time to heal some nagging injuries.

Lester has thrown for 1,737 yards and 36 touchdowns in eight games, and Daniels leads the PIFL with eight interceptions. Rafe leads the team in receiving yards (49 receptions for 567 yards and nine TDs), while Wimbush is the team’s bread-and-butter back (182 yards ad 10 TDs,) and Babb is one of the leaders on defense (27 solo tackles and 11 assists and an interception).

All of them feel better after the break — and for all the right reasons.

Davis gave his team the entire week off and they didn’t return to practice until Tuesday, because Monday was Memorial Day.

“I always give them the whole week off on bye weeks,’’ Davis said. “We all need the rest. All these guys have families and need time off with their families.’’

The injuries have healed across the board, but Davis said he won’t know exactly what kind of shape his team is in until the kickoff.

“I won’t know until Saturday,’’ said. “The bye week came at a great time. We needed it to get ready for the last stretch.’’

Nobody needed the break as much as Lester, who suffered a knee injury on April 28 against Alabama. He took a week off, and Darnell Kennedy replaced him in a 57-40 loss to Columbus — the Panthers’ only loss of the season — and then Lester came back strong, winning the last two games.

He beat Louisiana, 54-47, and then beat Alabama, 59-40, two weeks ago. But he has been playing through pain and was more than happy to get the time off.

“When the bye week started I was about 75-to-80 percent,’’ Lester said at practice on Thursday. “Right now, I’m at 95 percent. I’m almost back. I needed the it real bad. I just needed to stop moving around and catch up with the rest of these guys.’’

Daniels, who lives in Columbus, said he welcomed the bye week with open arms because it meant he could spend the whole week with his family — not to mention time for his groin injury to heal.

“I feel pretty good right now,’’ he said. “It was definitely a must-needed rest for all of us. Going down the stretch, we’re going to need everybody.’’

The Panthers have three regular season games left, beginning Saturday against Knoxville in their last regular season home game of the season. They finish the season with games at Columbus (June 9) and at Richmond (June 16).

They need to win one game to clinch homefield for the first round of the playoffs and need to win two of their last three to clinch homefield in the first round and in the championship game.

That’s another reason the bye week was important.

“It was big, real big,’’ said receiver Antwone Savage, who leads the team with 15 touchdown receptions. He has caught 35 passes for 518 yards. “Any bye week is big because it gives you time to relax and get away from it, and for us it was real good because it gave the whole team a chance to heal up before the final three games.

“We’ve got three games left and you want to give it your all. Some guys were banged up, and it was important to give them a chance to heal up.’’

THE GREAT OUTDOORS: The Panthers will be inside at home in the Civic Center Saturday night against Knoxville, but on Thursday they were out in the fresh air.

Instead of practicing indoors, the Panthers had a light workout at Albany High, because Albany Tech held its graduation at the Civic Center.

“We have practiced outside three times this year,’’ Davis said. “We were at Albany High earlier this year on a Thursday. It doesn’t make that much difference. These practices are more like a walk-through practice.’’