"I would love to play in a preseason game, if that's something that's smart to do with my foot," Jonathan Stewart said. "Just to get my feet wet before I play an actual regular season game that counts. Go out there and get some contact, get my pad level down, just things that a football player needs to do and feel before he plays a real competitive season."
Stewart said he's been told by doctors that eventually he'll be pain-free, but admits he's not there yet.
He still feels soreness after doctors worked on the ligament that attaches Achilles to the heel after last season.
Stewart called his return to practice a "baby step," and said he hopes to participate soon on a full-time basis.
"It's a relief just being out there, being around what I'm supposed to be doing," Stewart said. "Making gradual steps toward being on the field is the plan. Today was good just to be around the guys and be able to walk through some plays and stuff like that."
Coach John Fox admitted he "got a little excited" when he spotted Stewart walking down the hill to practice in the morning with his helmet in his hand.
Others, like center Ryan Kalil, saw it as an opportunity to poke fun at his shy teammate after he missed 19 practices here at training camp.
"I tried to give a slow clap, but nobody jumped in with me," teased Kalil.
Fox said the team will monitor Stewart's progress on a day-to-day basis and that he'll likely only participate in one practice per day.
"You always like it when guys are out there," Fox said. "The more you do it, the better you get. The good side of some of those guys missing time, whether it's a Steve Smith or Jonathan Stewart, you get to look at other guys. That helps in those young guys' development. But you would always to prefer to have all of your working parts out there."
Stewart said his rehab has progressed well since the start of training camp and he's optimistic about the season.
"That's what it's all about," Stewart said. "The more I progress the more I do. You've just got to make sure you do it the right way."
Coach John Fox believes the problems that plagued the Panthers' offensive line in Thursday night's preseason loss to Baltimore are "correctable."
The Panthers allowed seven sacks and were plagued by several penalties, including three on star left tackle Jordan Gross.
Fox believes some of those problems are the result of not game-planning for preseason opponents. In fact, he said to this point in training camp the Panthers haven't even worked against a 3-4 defense, which is the scheme both the Ravens and their next opponent, the New York Jets, employ.
"We didn't pass protect as well as we needed to," Fox said. "When we game plan, we look at four games. You know exactly what the opponent is going to do. You see all their blitzes; you see all their pressures; and you see their personnel.
"One frustrating part about preseason is you don't get the opportunity to game plan, so a lot of it is new and you have to understand basic concepts and some of the finer points of things without actually repping them. Sometimes that's kind of expected. That was an area we need to get better."
Fox said not having right tackle Jeff Otah in the lineup hurts as well.
"A lot of it is correctable, and I'm definitely not in any kind of panic mode," he said.
Fox also pointed to the special teams as an area that needs to step it up.
"Leaving points out there with a bobbled snap on a field goal and then a missed extra point, and then we gave up a couple of big punt returns," Fox said. "But some of those were against down-the-line (backup) guys."
When asked what areas he was pleased with, Fox said, "I thought for the first time our tackling was pretty good. Defensively, our pass rush was pretty good. And I thought our quarterbacks played well. When we did protect them and they had time, we did a good job."
--Jordan Gross isn't exactly losing any sleep over his rough preseason debut in Thursday night's loss to Baltimore.
Gross was uncharacteristically called for three penalties in the first quarter, including two holding calls on the same drive.
"I think I was a little too aggressive the other night, and it worked out the way it did," Gross said.
Gross, who hadn't played in a game since breaking his leg last November, admitted he was a little too jacked up coming in.
"I had some energy going and maybe didn't have the greatest technique. As an offensive lineman, you've got to be able to play calm and cool," Gross said. "It wasn't anything major; it was just a rough string of events. It's really not a big deal in my opinion.
"I mean, if it was happening all the time, but I don't really get called for holding too often. That's not really part of my game I hang my hat on, so I think I'll be all right."
His teammates certainly aren't worried that the former Pro Bowler will bounce back.
"No, definitely not," said center Ryan Kalil. "He'll be just fine. Jordan is a really good player and he'll be ready to go."
--Rookie WR Brandon LaFell had no idea he'd be starting at wide receiver alongside Wallace Wright when he arrived at M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday night.
"It was kind of last minute," LaFell said. "(The coaches) told us right before we went out on the field. When I came into (training) camp I said I wanted to bust my tail to help this team win. So to get a chance to start in my first preseason game, that meant a lot to me."
LaFell and Wright got the starting nod over Kenny Moore and Dwayne Jarrett, who had worked with the starters for most of camp.
It might be another sign the team is preparing to part ways with Jarrett, or at least trying to light a spark under him to get him to work harder.
Meanwhile, LaFell said getting the starting nod gives him confidence that coaches feel strongly about his skills and feels he has a realistic chance to win the vacant No. 2 WR spot opposite Steve Smith.
"It gave me a lot of hope," LaFell said. "And especially if I can continue to do what I do on the practice field and make plays. But I know that when I get out here I can't have any missed assignments or coach will lose confidence in me. So hopefully I can keep doing what I'm doing and everything will work out and I will be running with the starters."
LaFell only caught one pass for no gain, but nearly had a touchdown.
Fellow rookie Jimmy Clausen lofted a ball into the corner of the end zone and LaFell thought he had it, but Baltimore CB Cary Williams got his hand on the ball at the last minute and knocked it away.
"I was like that little kid who was waiting for his bottle and his momma spilled it," laughed LaFell. "I was so happy when I went up because I knew it was a touchdown. Then at the last second the guy made a play. All I can do is say good play to (Williams) and go get the next one."
--Jon Beason said he felt "a little wide-eyed" in his first start this season at weak-side linebacker, a move necessitated by the injury to Thomas Davis.
"They were a fast-paced offense and quick getting in and out of the huddle," Beason said. "I'm still looking to get in that comfort zone, but I was able to make some plays. Hopefully I didn't make too many mental mistakes. I think I had a pretty solid game."
He had three tackles on the night.
Beason left the game after the first quarter, unlike fellow linebackers Dan Connor and James Anderson who stayed in for the entire first half.
--Center Ryan Kalil joked about how the "Double Trouble" tandem of running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are effective, in part, because they're able to spell each and stay fresh by rotating in and out.
Kalil jokingly suggested a similar rotation might work at center, too.
"I think it would be awesome if we had a center come in, you know, like 'The Snapping Duo.' I haven't thought of a sweet nickname, but we would have one, definitely.
"It would be awesome. Like if me and Todd McClure were in there. I like him, he's a sweet center. Can you imagine if we were switching out every series how tired those defensive guys would be? Oh my gosh, forget about it."
--It may not be time to panic, but QB Jimmy Clausen continues to struggle in the mundane task of receiving the snap from center.
It has been a problem earlier in camp and he fumbled a snap in Thursday night's game against Baltimore, although that was attributed to absurdly wet field conditions.
But on Saturday morning Clausen fumbled two more exchanges from center, forcing the team to scuttle both plays. It's hard to say whether that's the result of him working with new center Andrew Crummey, but it should be noted that Clausen seems to be the only quarterback having issues with the snap in practice.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We want to make sure we're a balanced offense and the passing game is going to be a huge part of that. We're going to pass the ball. We have some young guys and energetic guys and skillful guys out getting in the open and Matt Moore is slinging the rock around." -- Panthers C Ryan Kalil
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Down to six healthy linebackers, the Panthers signed Nic Harris on Saturday. Harris was a former fifth-round draft pick by the Buffalo Bills who never fit into their 3-4 scheme. He was waived-injured last December. To open a roster spot, the Panthers waived-injured former Wake Forest C Steve Justice, who injured his back on Thursday night.
--LB Nic Harris, a fifth-round pick by the Bills last year, signed with the Panthers. Carolina was down to six healthy linebackers following injuries to Quinton Culberson, Jordan Senn, Jamar Williams and Thomas Davis.
--C Steve Justice was waived-injured.
--CB Chris Gamble returned to practice Saturday night after missing a week of practice with an aggravated knee.
--S Aaron Francisco has missed more than a week with a hamstring injury.
--QB Jimmy Clausen has moved to No. 2 on the depth chart ahead of Hunter Cantwell.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Brandon LaFell vs. Kenny Moore, Dwayne Jarrett and Wallace Wright for the No. 2 WR position --
With the No. 2 WR position still up in the air, the Panthers swapped out starting receivers on Saturday as Jarrett and Moore were back to running with the ones while rookie Brandon LaFell and Wallace Wright ran with the second team. It's quite possible that Jarrett and Moore start this week against the Jets after LaFell and Wright combined to catch just one pass for no gain against Baltimore.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Ed Johnson vs. Tank Tyler for the starting DT spot -- Leonard and Johnson started against the Ravens, but Tyler is pushing hard for time, as is Derek Landri.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: DE Greg Hardy -- He had two sacks and two tackles for a loss in his preseason debut with the Panthers. Hardy was rated the No. 1 prospect in the 2010 NFL draft before last season but had a disappointing final season at Ole Miss and fell to the sixth round. Now it's looking like the Panthers have found that diamond in the rough. He even got some reps on Saturday with the first team with Tyler Brayton out.
ROOKIE REPORT: Jimmy Clausen, making his NFL debut, relieved Matt Moore against Baltimore and played nearly all of the second and third quarters, completing 8 of 15 passes for 80 yards with one interception. The pick occurred when wide receiver Dexter Jackson fell down.
Clausen looked good early.
With the Panthers trailing 10-0, the second-round pick from Notre Dame led the Panthers into field goal range behind a nice 25-yard pass over the middle to Kenny Moore and some nifty runs by Sutton before the drive stalled and they settled for a John Kasay 37-yard field goal. On the next drive Clausen led the Panthers to the Ravens doorstep before Sutton coughed up the ball.
Clausen said the night was "a blur" and he'll have to wait until he sees the game tape to evaluate how he played.
"I felt comfortable though," Clausen said. "I was anxious to get out there for the first time. But I felt totally comfortable."
INJURY REPORT: WR Steve Smith and RT Jeff Otah remain out of practice, but the Panthers got CB Chris Gamble and RB Jonathan Stewart back to work on Saturday.
DE Tyler Brayton sprained his ankle in the Ravens game and will miss a week or two.
Also still out are RB Mike Goodson, S Aaron Francisco, WR Trent Guy and LBs Jordan Senn, Jamar Williams and Quinton Culberson.
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