Cam Newton practiced Wednesday less than he had all camp. On Thursday, he practiced even less.
Friday night against Buffalo, he may not see any action at all.
The Panthers have not stated their plan for the starting quarterback in the exhibition against the Bills, but if he does play, he will be very limited.
“I’m going about it as if I am playing,” Newton said Thursday after practice. “Do I want to play? I do. I think this is an opportunity for me to play, but at the end of the day I’m sticking to the program.”
Newton did individual drills with receivers Thursday, and then worked on the opposite field with quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey. Midway through practice he rode the cart to the training room where he worked with head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion on his surgically repaired left ankle.
Newton has described the pain in his ankle as being sharp, but said pain has dulled.
“It’s like a thump from your mom when you said something that you weren’t supposed to, she’ll thump you dead in your ear or on your head,” Newton said. “It’ll hurt for that little second but it’ll go away after 2-3 minutes. It’s a reminder that, hey, you better check yourself.”
Rivera reiterated the team’s treatment of Newton is “part of the process,” a common refrain for Rivera as he attempts to quell any fears of Newton not being 100 percent by the regular season.
Without specifically naming players, Rivera said he doesn’t want to be like other teams in the past that have trotted out their quarterbacks when they weren’t fully healthy.
“We want to learn from those things and make sure we are set and ready to go with our quarterback,” Rivera said.
“I’m just saying we want to make sure when we get our guy on the field, he’s ready to roll.”
Rivera said he has worried Newton will want to do too much on the field during a game. At practice he’s been limited with no designed runs or scrambles, but Newton could improvise in a game. Should he play Friday, he would be in for no more than two series and he would mostly hand the ball off.
“I’m going to try to win,” Newton said. “We play this game for one reason and one reason only. We practice for one reason and one reason only: to win the day,” Newton said. “If I have an opportunity to go out there and the opportunity presents itself, of course I’m going to do anything to put my team in a position to win.”
Graham Gano is questionable with a lower back injury, and Rivera said athletic trainers would make a decision on Gano’s status Friday morning. Backup Jordan Gay would replace Gano; Gay also is expected to get a chance to punt.
Extra points will be placed at the 15-yard line, making it a 33-yard try. Two-point conversions will still be marked at the 2-yard line.
“It’ll be interesting. I don’t think it’s going to be any different for us. We’re going to line up and kick it,” Panthers special teams coordinator Richard Rodgers said. “The main thing is people want to think that it’s been so easy to do from the extra-point line.”
New England coach Bill Belichick was among the strongest proponents of making the extra point longer, saying it was no longer a competitive play.
Kickers missed only five extra points last season in 1,267 attempts, a success rate of 99.6 percent.
Gano thinks the longer attempt could result in more injuries.
“When the extra point’s close, guys aren’t going that hard at it. There’s a lot of push down the middle,” Gano said. “But I think with it being further back, I think you’ll see a lot more teams try to attack it and block the kicks. You could have a lot more injuries off the edge. I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
Frank Alexander, who’s suspended for the first four regular-season games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, will start in Johnson’s place.
Left guard Amini Silatolu and receiver/kick returner Kealoha Pilares, both of whom are coming off ACL surgeries, were given the day off Thursday. Both are expected to play against Buffalo, with Silatolu slated to start.
Rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin had what was easily his worst practice. The first-round pick dropped three passes and Rivera said it appeared Benjamin’s focus waned. Rivera spoke with receivers coach Ricky Proehl about Benjamin’s concentration after practice.
Running back Jonathan Stewart, who missed the first two weeks with a hamstring injury, looked good running straight ahead on a side field Thursday. Stewart will work out before Friday’s game and be evaluated again Sunday.
Chris Scott, a starter at right guard last season, took the majority of first-team reps at left guard with Silatolu out.
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