The Carolina Panthers were able to enjoy a bye this past week, which has allowed them to slowly work some guys back into their rotation. Wide receiver Steve Smith and running back Jonathan Stewart are the two most notable names we'll be keeping an eye on this week. Smith suffered a PCL sprain in Week 16, and Stewart tore his MCL in Week 14.
The Panthers (and 49ers) first official practice participation report will be available on Wednesday, but in the meantime, Carolina is actually back at practice. According to beat writer Joseph Person, Smith says he will play on Sunday. Smith said it was not a question of if he could play Sunday, but rather, how confident is he when he is playing. He said he was at 60 percent confidence on Monday. He acknowledged cardio was an issue, but that his knee is fine. Given that he hasn't played since Week 16, the cardio issues will be something to keep an eye on coming out of the gate in Charlotte.
Jonathan Stewart tore his MCL in Week 14, and has generally had a rough season. He spent the first two months on the PUP list recovering from ankle surgeries. He returned Week 9, and got the bulk of the workload against the 49ers in Week 10. Stewart finished that game with 41 rushing yards on 13 carries. DeAngelo Williams was the more effective running back, finishing with 46 yards and a touchdown on eight carries.
Ron Rivera said last week he was hoping to officially have Stewart and Smith back for Wednesday's practice. Smith was getting in work during the offensive installation, while Stewart watched from the sideline. My early, early guess is Steve Smith plays and Jonathan Stewart sits on Sunday. But, the practice participation reports will give us a better idea of things in the coming days.
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