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September 30, 2013

Stewart running well; Panthers eyeing his return

The Panthers returned to the practice fields Monday following their bye week, but the biggest development occurred on the sideline.

Running back Jonathan Stewart, who's been out since late-November with injuries to both ankles, ran a series of sprints at what looked to be close to full speed. Stewart, whose right ankle has given him the most problems, is eligible to come off the physically unable to perform list in two weeks.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he wasn't sure whether Stewart would be ready to go then.

"I don’t want to get ahead of myself. I’m on the coaching side, we get excited about things," Rivera said. "(Trainer) Ryan Vermillion and his people, they’ve got to be realistic about it. We have to go by what they’re telling us. So we’ll see. It really was nice to see him open it up."

DeAngelo Williams has been a one-man gang in the backfield with injuries to Stewart and rookie Kenjon Barner, who returned from a foot injury during the bye week. Williams is fourth in the league in rushing with an average of 97.0 yards a game.

But Stewart is a physical runner who has complemented Williams well. In 2009 they became the first NFL tandem to each rush for more than 1,100 yards.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on September 30, 2013 at 03:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

September 27, 2013

Newton fined $10,000 for Under Armour visor clips

Cam Newton has been fined $10,000 by the NFL for wearing Under Armour visor clips on his helmet.

The infraction, a violation of the league's equipment policy, was discovered earlier this week when a Forbes.com article pointed out Newton has been wearing the clips for much, if not all, of his three-year NFL career with the Carolina Panthers.

Nike has an apparel deal with the NFL, reportedly worth more than $1 billion. Under Armour, a brand that Newton endorses, has a deal with the league that allows players to wear its cleats and gloves. Players can wear Under Armour clips, but the 'UA' logo cannot be clearly visible.

No brand can have a clearly visible logo on the clip. There were no related fines for other players.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on September 27, 2013 at 04:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (27)

September 25, 2013

Greg Hardy named NFC Defensive Player of the Week

The Kraken was released Sunday, and for that, he has won NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, who has nicknamed himself "The Kraken" after the mythical sea creature, was awarded the honors Tuesday after his three-sack, eight-tackle performance against the New York Giants in Week 3.

Hardy abused Giants left tackle Will Beatty for much of the game, getting consistent pressure on Giants QB Eli Manning and sacking the two-time Super Bowl MVP three times as the Panthers tied a franchise-high with seven sacks.

Hardy is coming off a career year in which he tallied 11 sacks, but through two games he had none. He's also playing in a contract year, and his agent has engaged the Panthers about a new deal before his rookie contract is up.

Last year, Luke Kuechly was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week after his 16-tackle game in Week 14 against the Falcons.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on September 25, 2013 at 11:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (27)

September 24, 2013

Barner back for Panthers, Stewart on track to return

The Panthers' second-ranked rushing attack is getting some reinforcements.

Rookie running back Kenjon Barner returned to practice Tuesday for the first time since injuring his foot in the third preseason game at Baltimore.

More importantly, veteran running back Jonathan Stewart is on track to come off the physically unable to perform list when he's eligible in Week 7, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said recently. Stewart continues to rehab his surgically repaired right ankle.

Without a trusted backup, DeAngelo Williams has averaged 20 carries a game and is the league's third-leading rusher with 291 yards through three games. Only LeSean McCoy (395) and Doug Martin (297) have more rushing yards than Williams.

Williams has made it clear he didn't like how he was used under former offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. But he has thrived under Chud's successor, Mike Shula, who runs a more traditional rushing offense with the zone read sprinkled in as a change of pace.

Still, for a 30-year-old back who was relied on heavily in college at Memphis, getting some backfield help should be beneficial, especially as the season goes on.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on September 24, 2013 at 12:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

September 22, 2013

Dwan Edwards inactive for Panthers vs. Giants

Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott have said this week the Panthers will need their front seven to play well against the Giants.

That front seven will be without its most veteran member, defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, on Sunday.

Edwards is inactive for the game after being listed as "very, very questionable" on Friday with a hamstring injury he's dealt with since the preseason. Colin Cole will start in his place.

The other Panthers inactives are DB D.J. Moore (knee), CB Josh Thomas (concussion), RB Kenjon Barner (foot), S Quintin Mikell (ankle), CB James Dockery (thumb/shoulder) and DE Frank Alexander.

The Giants will be down starting cornerback Corey Webster and right tackle David Diehl

Carolina will have three safeties (Mike Mitchell, Robert Lester and Colin Jones) and four cornerbacks (Captain Munnerlyn, Drayton Florence, Josh Norman and Melvin White).

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on September 22, 2013 at 11:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

September 20, 2013

Edwards, Thomas and Dockery questionable for Sunday

Update (2:50 p.m.): Josh Thomas tweets he will not play Sunday against the Giants.

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The Panthers will go into Sunday's game against the Giants with two starting safeties and just one backup.

With Quintin Mikell and D.J. Moore out for the game, Colin Jones is the lone backup for the Panthers a week after he was concerned their "emergency safety." Undrafted rookie Robert Lester will start at strong safety and Mike Mitchell will start at free.

"We’ve worked a couple guys at the safety position trying to get a few extra reps in and stuff like that," Ron Rivera said Friday. "If we got into a situation we’d have to find one."

Cornerbacks Josh Thomas (concussion) and James Dockery (thumb/shoulder) are questionable. Thomas is going to see an independent doctor for his concussion protocol Friday afternoon. Rivera said Dockery will be a game-time decision.

If Thomas is cleared by the doctor, he will start opposite Captain Munnerlyn at cornerback. If not, the Panthers could start Josh Norman (knee, probable) or Drayton Florence.

On the defensive line, Dwan Edwards is "very, very questionable" with a hamstring injury that's plagued him since the preseason. Rivera was not optimistic about Edwards' status and said the team will likely know Saturday if he can play. Veteran Colin Cole would start in his place.

--Jonathan Jones 

Posted by Observer Sports on September 20, 2013 at 01:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

September 19, 2013

Dwan Edwards' status in doubt, Rivera names starting safeties

Friday's practice will be telling, but following Thursday's practice, Panthers coach Ron Rivera expressed concern about the status of defensive tackle Dwan Edwards for Sunday's game.

Edwards has been nursing a hamstring injury since the preseason and has not participated in practice this week.

"He’s a veteran guy, he’s an older guy and this has been a nagging thing," Rivera said. "Sitting there trying to see how he feels today and he was limited as far as getting out there and running around. He was at the walk-through and all that. But what you’re hoping for if he gets up and runs around and he tells you it doesn’t grab then you feel good about it. So we’ll see how he is tomorrow."

Rivera also named undrafted rookie Robert Lester the starting strong safety Sunday. Lester had been on the practice squad until Tuesday, when he was brought to the 53-man roster following Charles Godfrey (Achilles) going to the injured reserve.

He will start opposite Mike Mitchell at free safety. Rivera did not say who would start at cornerbacks, with Josh Thomas (concussion) still needing clearance from the doctor and veteran Drayton Florence having practiced just once since re-signing with the team Thursday.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on September 19, 2013 at 03:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (37)

September 18, 2013

Panthers secondary missing four regulars

The Panthers' grim situation in the secondary was laid out in black and white on the injury report: Three of the team's top defensive backs missed practice Wednesday, and a fourth was limited after aggravating an injury.

All Panthers coach Ron Rivera can do is hope some of the injured players return before Sunday's game with the Giants -- or start drawing up contingency plans.

"There is concern, I'm not going to kid you about that," Rivera said. "But hopefully by tomorrow, by Friday, we'll have those guys back on the field."

Cornerback/safety D.J. Moore said he won't be back until after the bye week due to a grade 2 MCL sprain. CB Josh Thomas (concussion) said he expects to play, while the status of S Quintin Mikell (ankle) and CB Josh Norman (thigh) is uncertain.

The injury report doesn't include starting free safety Charles Godfrey, who was lost for the season after tearing his Achilles at Buffalo.

Consider that undrafted safety Robert Lester, on his first day on the active roster, was the starting strong safety.

Rivera said the Panthers gave "a little bit" of consideration to bringing in a veteran to fill Godrey's spot before promoting Lester from the practice squad.

"We had a safety we had in training camp that we liked. The young man's got an opportunity," Rivera said. "That's why we wanted to keep him on the practice squad. He's the next best available for us."

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on September 18, 2013 at 04:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (25)

September 17, 2013

New NFL policy means no black Panthers helmet

The Panthers black-on-black jersey and pants combination was voted the greatest uniform in NFL history.

For the foreseeable future, a black helmet will not be added to the mix.

An NFL committee on head, neck and spine safety recommended to the league that teams no longer use alternate helmets.

"Our Head, Neck, and Spine Committee, chaired by Drs. Hunt Batjer and Richard Ellenbogen, and the Player Safety Advisory Panel, chaired by John Madden and Ronnie Lott, have recommended that players no longer wear different helmets as part of a ‘Throwback’ or ‘Third’ uniform,” the memo from the league office, obtained by ProFootballTalk.com, said. “Our office supports this change and has reviewed it with the chairman of our Health and Safety ownership committee, Dr. John York, who concurs with this recommendation."

The rule was made public Tuesday afternoon after it was revealed Tampa Bay would not be allowed to wear its Bucco Bruce helmet with its throwback 'Creamsicle' uniforms.

That means, since Carolina wears silver helmets, the black Panthers helmet that fans have long yearned for won't be happening any time soon, if it was ever in the works in the first place. 

The Bills wore a throwback helmet against Carolina in Week 2, but the equipment staff simply changed the decals on their white helmets. If the rule had been in place last year, Washington and Atlanta would not have been able to wear their throwback helmets against Carolina.

The Panthers will wear black jerseys in Weeks 11-16 and could wear black pants in any or all of those games.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on September 17, 2013 at 06:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

Panthers sign rookie S Robert Lester from practice squad

In need of a healthy body in the secondary, the Panthers signed undrafted rookie S Robert Lester from their practice squad on Tuesday after moving S Charles Godfrey (Achilles) to the injured reserve.

Lester signed with Carolina after going undrafted out of Alabama in April, and he turned heads during rookie camp in the spring. His production trailed off as the Panthers got to training camp, with Ron Rivera saying one week into camp that Lester was hitting an early rookie wall.

But the coaching staff liked Lester enough to keep him on the practice squad, and it’s possible that he’ll be active Sunday against the Giants.

“Some of the same things he did in college with an ability to find the football and make plays on the football when it’s in the air,” defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said about what he likes about Lester. “He did some of the same things in the preseason for us and we thought he got better as the weeks wore on and as he got more comfortable like any player, he’s going to show up and his true abilities are going to show up more with time.”

The Panthers secondary is in disarray after a flood of injuries against Buffalo. After injuries to Godfrey, S Quintin Mikell and DB D.J. Moore, the coaching staff considered moving Thomas Davis from linebacker to safety, a position he hadn’t played since his rookie season in 2005.

Mikell said Monday he planned to undergo further tests on his sprained ankle on Tuesday.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on September 17, 2013 at 12:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)

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