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Will Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton play in opener? ‘No doubt in my mind,’ he says

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Jim Rogash - Getty Images
Cam Newton won’t play in Thursday’s final Carolina Panthers exhibition game, at Pittsburgh, but he left no doubt he expects to be ready for the Sept. 7 season opener at Tampa Bay.

With the help of a trainer, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton strapped on his shoulder pads Wednesday for the first time since injuring his ribs last week against New England.

Newton didn’t participate in the team’s walkthrough, but he left little question about his status for the Panthers’ season opener Sept. 7 at Tampa Bay.

“There’s no doubt in my mind,” Newton said, when asked whether he’d play against the Buccaneers. “I’m just going to worry about things that I can control. I’m going to continue to come in and get as much treatment as possible so my body will be 100 percent.”

The Panthers play their final exhibition Thursday night at Pittsburgh. Newton was scheduled to make the trip so he can continue working with head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion.

Newton indicated he sustained hairline fractures in multiple ribs when he was kneed in the lower back by Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins at the end of a 7-yard scramble during the second quarter last Friday. After leaving for one snap, Newton returned and played into the third quarter.

But an MRI on Sunday morning revealed the fractures.

Newton did not slide on the scramble, but rolled into Collins, whose knee struck Newton in a crease in his flak jacket.

Newton, who had offseason surgery on his left ankle, was noncommittal when asked whether he planned to slide more often when he takes off running from the pocket.

“I guess we will all just have to stay tuned and see,” Newton said.

Newton said putting on shoulder pads Wednesday was “a superstitious thing more than anything.”

Panthers coach Ron Rivera did not say when he thought Newton would return to practice or begin throwing, but Rivera shared Newton’s confidence that he will be ready to play against Tampa Bay in Week 1.

There’s little players can do for cracked ribs other than to rest and try to manage the pain.

“The doctors have told us that it will be a daily thing,” Rivera said. “It’s just about getting the soreness out, and as he continues to go he’ll be better and better.”

Rivera pointed to the recovery of reserve defensive tackle Casey Walker from a rib injury as a good indicator of the timeline Newton faces.

Walker was injured Aug. 17 against Kansas City and had difficulty even talking after the game. But after sitting out last week, Walker returned to practice this week and will play Thursday against the Steelers.

“Nothing’s different than the obvious that I hurt the rib section of my body. The pads (flak jacket) that I’ve had have been nicked to a degree,” Newton said. “But nothing to the extent that will change my playing style or make me uncomfortable.”

Rivera expressed concern about the timing of the Panthers’ passing game after the 30-7 loss to New England. He had planned to play Newton for the first quarter to get him more work with the new receiving corps.

Newton missed all but the final practice of organized team activities following his March ankle surgery, and he did not run any zone read plays during training camp until the last week at Wofford.

But Newton doesn’t believe missing the last exhibition will hinder the offense.

“No setback at all,” he said. “I’m going to control the things I can control. I’m excited about the opportunity and each day brings me more confidence that I am getting closer to 100 percent.”

Injury updates: The Panthers could be without both of their starting defensive ends against the Steelers. Charles Johnson, who will have played in only one exhibition because of a hamstring injury, did not travel to Pittsburgh. Greg Hardy, who has a bruised AC joint in his shoulder, was scheduled to make the trip, although Rivera said he’s uncertain whether Hardy will play.

• Rookie right guard Trai Turner, who has a groin injury, is out. Chris Scott will start in his place, while Fernando Velasco will also play.

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson
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