Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart took to the field on Wednesday for his first official practice with the team since injuring his right ankle on August 26th.
In a report from the Associated Press today [Wednesday] Stewart was quoted as saying that he feels “optimistic” he will play against the New Orleans Saints this Sunday.
The Panthers and head coach Ron Rivera made the right call to hold Stewart out in the Panthers season opener. Stewart had not practiced with the team at all last week, resulting in the decision not to risk further injury so early in the year. Hopefully the extra days off allow for Stewart to return at full strength. It’s one thing to test out an ankle injury on the sideline and another to test it out at game speed; a return in week one would have simply been too soon.
To say the Panthers missed Stewart in their opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would in-fact be an understatement. The Panthers rushed for a franchise low 10 yards on 13 carries. Running back DeAngelo Williams, who Carolina was hoping to lean on in week one, rushed for negative one yard leading some fans to point out that Stewart actually out rushed Williams on Sunday even though he did not play.
Carolina needs to find a way to get the ground game moving from this point forward. Quarterback Cam Newton was sacked three times on Sunday, due in large part because the Panthers could not run the football. Tampa Bay wasn’t fooled by any attempt at the play-action pass, a tool the Panthers will need to have working if they expect Newton to have any kind of success this season.
Stewart’s return should alleviate some of the pressure on Newton and the running game in week two against the Saints.
The Panthers will be opening up their home stadium this weekend, magnifying Stewart’s status for Sunday– a situation Panthers fans should be keeping a close eye on.