For the first three preseason games, Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has had a set number of plays in mind for his starters to run before pulling them.
But at Wednesday’ practice, Rivera was coy about how he would use his starters, if at all, for Thursday’s final preseason contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“They’re going to play minimal,” Rivera said. “I mean, honestly, that’s it. We’re going to see how everybody feels tomorrow and we’ll go through the warm-ups and decide as we go through it.”
The coach said if this were the regular season, he would not rule anyone as out for Thursday’s contest. But there are several players who have not been at practice this week who will likely not play.
Those include running back Jonathan Stewart, who continues to nurse a sprained ankle suffered in the second quarter of Sunday’s game against the New York Jets. Wide receiver Steve Smith remains on crutches with a foot infection, but Rivera said the most veteran member of the Panthers is getting better each day.
“No, not worried about him. I think Steve will be ready to go (for Week 1),” Rivera said. “You know Steve. It’s going to take an awful lot for him to miss a regular season game.”
Indeed, the 10-year wide receiver has missed only four regular season games due to injury since 2007.
As far as the healthy starters, Rivera has not ruled out the possibility of holding them out completely against the Steelers.
“These last two days have been really hot, very humid and it’s just hard to get your rest,” said Rivera, referring to the three days between games this week. “So we have to be real careful with our guys, real smart and we’ll talk about it (Thursday) and make decisions.”
Starters played three series against the Houston Texans in the first preseason game. Against the Dolphins, the offensive starters played 21 plays through the end of the first quarter. On Sunday, the starters were in for 35 plays that took them into halftime.
CARTED OFF: Rookie defensive linemen Nate Chandler and Frank Alexander were carted off the field toward the end of practice on Wednesday after cramping up due to the heat.
Chandler was also carted off the field earlier in the month in Spartanburg for the same reason.
“It’s a little hot. They played a couple days ago. It’s rough on these guys, it really is,” Rivera said. “There were a couple of guys we wanted to be careful with, they started to cramp up so we wanted to get them inside as quick as possible and get them cooled down. They have to play tomorrow and we want to be sure they’re OK.”
GROSS, OLSEN REST: Veterans Jordan Gross and Greg Olsen got a second consecutive day off Wednesday. Both the offensive tackle and tight end were in caps rather than helmets during practice Wednesday after neither were on the practice field Tuesday.
Rivera assured both were fine, and that with the short turnaround between games they were just be cautious.
“Jordan’s fine. We’re just resting him. He’s an older, veteran guy and we want to be careful,” the coach said. “Some of our veteran guys got nicked up the other night, and instead of having a full week to recover it’s going to be a quick turnaround.”