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TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS AT CAROLINA PANTHERS, Sunday 1 p.m., Fox

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Panthers Notebook: DeAngelo Williams questionable with thigh contusion

DeAngelo Williams is in danger of missing his first game for the Carolina Panthers since the 2010 season.

Williams has been battling a deep quad contusion suffered in the Panthers’ 20-16 victory at Miami last week and has not practiced since.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera expressed concern for Williams’ availability on Sunday against Tampa Bay, labeling the franchise’s leading rusher as questionable for the Buccaneers game.

Fellow running backs Jonathan Stewart (ankle) and Mike Tolbert (knee/hamstring) are also questionable, but Rivera indicated that duo is further along in their recoveries than Williams.

“A lot of concern with DeAngelo,” Rivera said. “Everybody else we’ll see how they are tomorrow. They had good practices today.”

Rivera said he should have a good idea during Saturday walk-throughs if Williams will be healthy enough to play against Tampa Bay, which has the ninth-best rushing defense in the league at 101.6 yards allowed per game.

Should Williams be unable to go, rookie running back Kenjon Barner would likely be active for the first time in three games. Barner has one rush for 1 yard and two catches for 7 yards this season.

“There’s so many good football players in that backfield, and this could be that opportunity,” Rivera said of Barner. “He’s got to make the most of it, as I’ve said in the past. We’re not going to worry about how many snaps and reps people are getting. You get them, they’ve got to be quality.”

Right guard Chris Scott is out. Linebacker Chase Blackburn (foot) is questionable. Wide receiver Steve Smith (knee) and left tackle Jordan Gross (not injury related) are probable.

Rivera optimistic with Johnson: As the Panthers begin planning for a season stretching into January, defensive end Charles Johnson will sit out Sunday, but Rivera expressed excitement about his recovery.

Johnson will miss his second consecutive game with an MCL sprain he suffered against New England. But with a marquee division game next week at New Orleans, Rivera has his eye on Johnson returning for the Saints.

“I’m pretty excited about him,” Rivera said. “I think he’s got every opportunity to play next week. He had a big day today watching him go through the paces with the training staff and the strength and conditioning guys. You get to be pretty excited about, you know what, he’s getting pretty close.

“We want to be smart because going forward after this game is our next important one. We’ve got some more games that are coming up that are going to turn out to be pretty big.”

Mario Addison, who had a sack and four quarterback pressures against Miami, will get the start at defensive end while Frank Alexander will rotate in.

Competition at corner: After watching starting cornerback Captain Munnerlyn give up a pair of long completions to Miami wideout Mike Wallace last week, Rivera said he doesn’t know who the starting corners will be against Tampa Bay.

Rivera would only say Munnerlyn would be the starting nickelback against the Buccaneers, and coaches are still deciding what combination of corners to use.

“We’re going to play a guy who’s had the best week,” Rivera said. “We’re going to talk about it. We’ll watch the tape from (Friday) and we’ll make our decisions.”

Munnerlyn has started the first 11 games, but struggled against the Dolphins when he sat on two routes against Wallace, who got behind Munnerlyn for receptions of 53 and 57 yards.

Undrafted rookie Melvin White has started the past five games at the other corner, but had a rough night against Tom Brady in a Monday night win over New England on Nov. 18.

Veteran Drayton Florence said the competition this week was “wide open,” adding that practice squad corner De’Andre Presley even received a few first-team reps.

Rivera said he wanted to give younger corners Josh Thomas and Josh Norman a chance, but would not be more specific.

“You want to give the guys something other than to just sit there and say, ‘Well, I’m a backup,’” Rivera said. “Josh Thomas did a great job last week (when) he got an opportunity. Josh Norman has been working hard. He’s going to get a chance, as well.”

Wake fined: Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake was fined $15,750 for his hit on quarterback Cam Newton on the Panthers’ first offensive snap last week at Miami, the league announced Friday.

Wake not penalized on the play, in which he struck Newton in the chin with his helmet after Newton released a pass to Steve Smith. The hit caused Newton to bite to his tongue and left him “spooked” for at least part of the first half, in coach Ron Rivera’s estimation.

Toys for Tots: The Panthers will hold their annual holiday toy drive Sunday to benefit the Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots program. Fans can drop off new, unwrapped toys at stadium gates when they open at 11 a.m.

Tickets available: The Panthers have 325 tickets available through Ticketmaster for Sunday’s game that were returned by the Buccaneers. The game is officially sold out, the 111th consecutive sellout for the Panthers.

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