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Carolina Panthers: Quarterback Cam Newton’s status up in the air

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David T. Foster III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
Chase Blackburn, right, tries to strip the ball from Brandon Williams during a drill Tuesday in Spartanburg. The Panthers’ first exhibition is Friday against Buffalo.

SPARTANBURG The questions about Cam Newton’s participation in exhibitions are finally coming to fruition days from Carolina’s first game against Buffalo.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he, the doctors, the training staff and Newton have not sat down to make a plan for Newton’s playing time Friday night, if he plays at all. Rivera said that decision won’t come until after Thursday morning’s practice when Newton can see how he feels.

After Tuesday afternoon’s practice, Rivera was noncommittal on if he expected Newton to play.

“I’m not going to say yes and all of a sudden he’s not going to. And I’m not going to say no and all of a sudden he’s going to,” Rivera said. “I’ve been told, in talking with the trainers, that we can’t make a decision right now.”

Newton had surgery in March on his left ankle to tighten loose ligaments. The timetable had him out four months, and Newton has not missed a training camp practice or taken any reps off.

But the Panthers’ coaching staff has not allowed Newton to run in team drills, leaving all the designed runs to backup quarterback Joe Webb.

In the past, Newton typically plays no more than two series in the first exhibition. If he plays against the Bills, Newton will do no more than that.

“And I imagine it’d involve a lot of handing the ball off,” Rivera said.

Newton has favored that ankle on a handful of occasions during camp. He has walked tenderly on it coming off the field, and last week he was kicked in the shin and had to wear a shin guard for the remainder of practice.

All together now: Two joint practices across the league have not prompted any talk from the Panthers about doing one.

Rivera said he and his staff have not considered doing a joint practice with another NFL team during training camp. New England and Washington and Atlanta and Tennessee have done joint practices this preseason.

“There’s some benefit to it, but we really haven’t had an opportunity to sit down and think about doing it,” Rivera said. “We may, we may not. It just depends on if it’s going to serve our needs.”

Patriots coach Bill Belichick is a supporter of joint practices, and he has done one with New Orleans in the past. He told reporters this week it helps the coaches and the players, who are able to hit someone other than teammates.

“We’re seeing a totally different group of players, number one, so the matchups are different,” said Belichick according to MassLive.com. “We’ve worked against our guys; now we’re working against players with different skills and we’re working against a different scheme. Their offense and their defense and their special teams is certainly not a mirror image of ours.”

Panthers linebacker Chase Blackburn said he didn’t see many advantages to doing a joint practice. In 2005 with the Giants, Blackburn and his teammates got into several arguments and one brawl with the New York Jets.

“One team practices at the tempo they want. The other team starts taking out your receivers,” Blackburn said. “Now as a defender you’ve got to go. You say, ‘Hey you’re taking a cheap shot on our guy across the middle, we’re going to take a cheap shot on your guy.’ We’re competitive by nature. I think you compete like that, bad things happen.”

Injury update: Starting right tackle Nate Chandler sat out Tuesday with a minor knee injury but is expected to return Wednesday, Rivera said.

Garry Williams, who was held out a couple of days last week with patellar tendinitis in his surgically repaired knee, took Chandler’s place with the first-team offense.

Defensive end Greg Hardy was back at practice after being sidelined with a shoulder injury. Charles Johnson, the other starting end, remains out with a hamstring injury.

The athletic training staff is being cautious with free safety Roman Harper’s injured big toe, hoping to keep it from developing into an issue that bothers him for several weeks. Harper has not practiced for several days, and Rivera says there’s no timetable for his return.

Observations

With running backs Jonathan Stewart (hamstring) and Kenjon Barner (legs) out, DeAngelo Williams took the majority of the first-team reps and showed a good burst through the hole.

Kelvin Benjamin looks more like the Panthers’ No. 1 wideout every day. He caught a couple of touchdown passes from Newton on Tuesday, jumping to snatch the ball at its peak over cornerback James Dockery near the end of practice.

Center Ryan Kalil did a good job getting out on the edge to block outside linebacker Thomas Davis on a screen pass to Mike Tolbert.

• Marcus Lucas had three catches in a final team drill from Matt Blanchard. He had a quick start to camp but had cooled until late Tuesday.

• Team owner/founder Jerry Richardson was at practice Tuesday riding on a cart with friend and sportscaster Jim Gray.

• Cornerback Charles Godfrey had a good day with a pass breakup on a Newton pass to Greg Olsen and a would-be sack on Derek Anderson.

• Mick Mixon, the radio voice of the Panthers, will do play-by-play for the telecast Friday night. Mike Rucker keeps his color analyst position and WCCB’s Kelli Bartik will be the sideline reporter. Mixon will resume his play-by-play role on radio in the regular season.

Getting to know ...

LB Denicos Allen

Ht./Wt.: 5-11/225

College: Michigan State

NFL experience: Rookie

The scoop: Allen was one of the team’s top undrafted free agents, but he has made little noise in training camp. Allen has been stuck with the third-team defense on a position group that’s tough to crack. Allen, Ben Jacobs, D.J. Smith and Adarius Glanton are jockeying for the final spot among the linebackers, and Allen needs to stand out more on defense if he wants the job.

Twitter handle: @D_ALLEN_28

Recent tweet: Living life like a beginner, this is only the beginning!!!!

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9 Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson
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