Ron Rivera is hopeful that, barring any setbacks on the Carolina Panthers off day Saturday, two of his star players will be ready for Sundays game against the New Orleans Saints.
Wide receiver Steve Smith and running back Jonathan Stewart are listed as questionable for Sunday. Smith is nursing a knee injury that occurred on a hard hit against Tampa Bay last weekend and Stewart is overcoming an ankle sprain. Both participated fully in practice Friday.
I think based on what we want to do offensively, we need those playmakers out there for us, Rivera said. Offensively we do suffer because we have different style of players. Steves different from Brandon LaFell, and theyre different from (Louis Murphy).
And our running back trio is a different combination of guys, so you have to keep that combination because it adds a little bit of doubt to who you play.
Stewart sat out the opener as the Panthers tied a franchise low with 10 rushing yards. Though his coach had seen some apprehension in Stewart when he cut during practice this week, Rivera said that wariness has subsided.
Rivera was less encouraged about Mike Pollack. The guard is listed as doubtful with a shoulder stinger.
Linebacker Kenny Onatolu was scheduled to return to the team Friday evening after being excused from practice this week because of a death in the family. Defensive end Greg Hardy also is listed as probable because of a stomach bug that Rivera said had afflicted a few of the players.
Center/guard Jeff Byers also is listed as probable.
Giant prep: Next week wont be a normal game week for the Panthers with the New York Giants coming to town Thursday, and already the coaching staff is adjusting accordingly.
The pro scouts and quality control coaches have broken down film of the defending Super Bowl champions, and Rivera plans on picking that up as soon as he gets dinner Sunday.
When I was a coordinator in San Diego and we played Thursday night games, you play on Sunday, the games over, you go to dinner and you come to work, Rivera said. And as coaches thats what well end up doing.
Thats kind of the way it has to be done, and if not we wont have stuff done for Monday.
Distracting Graham: One of the Panthers biggest challenges Sunday will be defending tight end Jimmy Graham.
Graham, who is 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds, is coming off a six-reception game for 85 yards and a touchdown against Washington.
Rivera praised Graham, and joked about how his team could stop the former University of Miami basketball player.
Maybe if we can put a basketball out on the field and distract him a little bit, Rivera said. Hes a good football player. Thats the bottom line. You look at how dynamic he is with the things that he does. Hes a big part of who they are, and hes a guy that plays with a tremendous amount of attitude.
Rivera went as far as to compare Graham to former Panthers and Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey. He believes Grahams intensity on the field is comparable to Shockeys.
You see a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of attitude, which I think is great, Rivera said. You watch football players like that, you go, Id love to have a guy like that on my football team. Theyve got a lot of guys like that. Theyve got very solid playmakers, and theyve got guys who play very hard, the way you like football players to play. Thats why I think theyre a dominant football team.
Rookies toughened: Some of the Panthers rookies admitted to nerves last weekend in their first NFL regular-season game.
But Rivera is expecting his rookies to be calmer this weekend now that they have a game under their belts. He expects that because he remembers his first game experience.
We played Seattle and (Hall of Fame fullback) Franco Harris had just gotten traded there and all of a sudden you say, Holy Are you kidding me? Rivera said. Then one or two plays go by and you finally get a chance to make a play and then youre OK now things slow down.
Now the newness is gone and I expect them to hit the ground running.
Rivera said guard Amini Silatolu had a similar reaction to that as he struggled against Tampa Bay. So, too, did first-round pick Luke Kuechly, who was flying around so much that his coach said he missed two tackles.
Bus stuff: The Carolina Panthers are partnering with Classroom Central to help Stuff the Bus on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
Fans are encouraged to bring school supplies to the game to help benefit students and teachers at low-income schools around the region.
There will be volunteers at every stadium gate to collect the supplies starting at 11 a.m. and going through the end of the first quarter.