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Carolina Panthers WR Steve Smith says sprained knee is ‘71 percent’ healed

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith isn’t a doctor, but he seems to be enjoying playing one with his updates on his sprained knee.

Smith practiced Wednesday for the first time since injuring his left knee two weeks ago, but it’s still unclear how effective Smith will be Sunday in an NFC playoff game against San Francisco (1:05 p.m., Bank of America Stadium).

“Felt good, 71 percent. That’s where I’m at,” Smith said. “I was at 60 (percent) after Monday so today I’m 71.”

Smith, the franchise’s all-time receiving leader, was listed as limited on the injury report.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Smith “was not that limited,” although the team did limit the number of reps Smith took.

“You’re always concerned about something coming off an injury, so it’s more of a mental thing than physical. And that’s the part I have to get over, the mental aspect of it,” Smith said. “Physically, I’m fine. But just mentally every day getting better each and every day.”

Smith sprained his posterior collateral ligament in the first half against the Saints on Dec. 22, and missed the regular-season finale at Atlanta. The Panthers’ passing game struggled without him.

No. 2 receiver Brandon LaFell had no catches on five targets, and wideouts Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon combined for four catches for 22 yards.

While Smith and defensive tackle Colin Cole (calf) were limited Wednesday, running back Jonathan Stewart (knee), tight end Ben Hartsock (knee) and safety Quintin Mikell (thumb) practiced fully.

Stewart sat out the final three regular-season games after tearing the MCL in his right knee at New Orleans on Dec. 8. Stewart said he expects to play against the 49ers, although Rivera declined to say how extensive the playing time would be.

“It felt good, like I am definitely getting back in the groove again,” Stewart said. “I felt pretty good.”

Defensive end Greg Hardy returned after missing Monday’s practice with what he called a form of bronchitis.

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