Panthers get 1-2 punch from returns of Newton, Stewart

nfl-camrbs When the Carolina Panthers started their final stretch of training camp here Sunday, it was almost like they added two new players. Running back Jonathan Stewart returned to practice and quarterback Cam Newton used his legs for the first time since undergoing ankle surgery in March.

“It’s part of what we’re going through with (Newton), and it was decided we were going to work some zone read with him today,” head coach Ron Rivera said after a practice filled with light rain throughout.

Despite Sunday’s wet conditions, Newton was finally allowed to carry the ball on a few designed runs and a couple scrambles. The Panthers have been understandably conservative with their most-important player this summer. They carefully mapped out the steps along his rehab process, precautions that have included no carries during practices, and a seat on the sidelines during the preseason opener.

“We’re now getting to the point where (Newton’s) workload is going to increase, things are going to change, and we’re going to do things differently now,” Rivera said.

Newton is expected to play in the Panthers second preseason game, next Sunday against the Chiefs. Stewart should also be out there.

The seventh-year back, who suffered a hamstring injury about a week and a half before camp began, looked spry, even working a bit with the ones.

“It’s right about a good time to have him back,” Rivera said.

Because of the unknowns surrounding Stewart, the Panthers held running back DeAngelo Williams out Friday against the Bills. They could each get a decent amount of work next Sunday.

Starters usually play about a half in the second preseason game, and nearly three quarters in the third, but the Panthers will likely reverse that this year. They still have a week to prepare for Kansas City, but they have just four days after that before they play in New England on Aug. 22.

“I’d hate to play a half a game, and all of a sudden — bam — on a short week we’re traveling on Thursday, playing on Friday, and expect the guys to come out and play effectively,” Rivera said.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean the starters will play into the third quarter next Sunday.

“If we’ve gotten 40 reps by halftime, probably not,” Rivera explained. “But if we’re in the high 20s, low 30s, then we probably will come out and give them a series or two in the third quarter.”

Rivera wanted his team to do some more conditioning work Sunday, but the wet conditions ruined those plans. The Panthers will be in pads for their final two practices here and Rivera has “some things planned the next couple days to help us evaluate some of our players.”

And he was probably not talking about watching video.

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