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Panthers’ Jonathan Stewart says he needs to practice before return

Since Nov. 26, 2012, 10 different Panthers have rushed for a combined 1,579 yards on 323 carries in 10 games.

That was the date of the Monday night game against the Eagles last season, a game in which running back Jonathan Stewart suffered an ankle sprain that sidelined him for the rest of the season.

Since that game, and after spending the first six weeks of this season on the physically unable to perform list, Stewart thinks he’ll need more than a week of practice before he gets his first carry since that night.

“It’s been a long time,” Stewart said. “I think I’d rather get into a rhythm. Again, it’s a professional sport and it’s the business of being productive. If your name is called, you got to produce.”

Stewart believed if he had to be ready for Sunday’s game against St. Louis, he could be. But the sixth-year running back doesn’t seem to be rushed by the Panthers coaching staff.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Stewart will continue working with head trainer Ryan Vermillion this week after seeing his workload increase on the sidelines during practice this year. The team will evaluate how he feels after Tuesday’s workout and make a determination on his practice availability for this week.

Rivera, admittedly “overly optimistic” when it comes to his players’ injuries, agreed Monday that he was “cautiously optimistic” about Stewart’s impending return.

Stewart had offseason surgeries on both ankles, but it’s the right ankle that’s still giving him trouble. An arthroscopic procedure cleared out floating bodies in his ankle, and the damage those bodies caused is what he’s rehabbing.

He said he’s managing the soreness, and that there’s still discomfort when he cuts while running. He said his speed and explosiveness are not concerns.

Teams have a three-week window in which to allow a player to begin practicing, then another three-week stretch from his first practice to decide whether to activate him to the 53-man roster.

When asked if he expects to play this year, Stewart said he did, but he was noncommittal about a return to action this week.

“I know I’m eligible to come off this week but again, it’s still a managing situation of when’s the right time for the team and all that,” he said.

Carolina doesn’t have to rush him back because the Panthers are enjoying a rushing offense ranked eighth in the league in yards per game at 135.8 yards per contest behind leading rusher DeAngelo Williams.

“I think with a guy like that (Stewart), a little bit of a power inside guy, sometimes if he gets rolling he can pound, pound, pound and all of a sudden you’ve got a guy with DeAngelo’s quickness and burst and now all of a sudden he breaks a big one,” Rivera said. “Again, it’s something that’s happened here in the past with those two guys. I do know that with (fullback) Michael Tolbert in the mix as well, we’ll have a very good tandem of backs, even better than we have right now. Because I really like what we’re doing and we want to stay right along those lines.”

Stewart said it’s been tough watching games, be it on the sidelines at Bank of America Stadium or at home during away games.

“This is the longest I’ve ever been out of playing football, period,” Stewart said. “Seeing those guys especially, there are times where I know they’re tired or a little banged up. I know that me being on the sidelines would help alleviate that pain that they’re going through.”

Briefly

•  Cornerback Melvin White is going through the concussion protocol this week after leaving the game early with a head injury. He’ll have to be cleared by an independent doctor before he can play Sunday.

•  Offensive coordinator Mike Shula said the flea-flicker, tight end screen to Greg Olsen that went for 11 yards in the second quarter of the Minnesota game was offensive line coach John Matsko’s idea. “I was hoping we’d get a little more out of it but it was a good little change-up,” Shula said.

•  San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman made a trip to Concord in July to help get peace of mind about a family secret, according to an ESPN press release. ESPN’s newsmagazine E:60 followed Bowman to Concord, and the program airs Tuesday at 7 p.m.

•  Defensive end Greg Hardy, who played college basketball at Ole Miss, said he could beat reigning NBA MVP LeBron James in a basketball game of 1-on-1. Read Hardy’s comments on blogs.charlotte.com/panthers/.

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9
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