Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera is hopeful DeAngelo Williams will play against Pittsburgh on Sunday, but the franchise’s all-time leading rusher is listed as questionable.
Williams was limited in practice Friday after missing every practice since last Wednesday. A hamstring injury kept Williams on the sideline for last week’s game against the Detroit Lions and for the better part of this week working with trainers.
“DeAngelo had a good day (Friday), worked well,” Rivera said. “You just hope there are no setbacks.”
Williams is among three Panthers who are questionable for Sunday night’s contest against the Steelers. Receivers Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant join Williams as questionable with hamstring injuries.
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Williams led the team in rushing in Week 1 against Tampa Bay with 72 yards, but last week Jonathan Stewart could muster just 37 yards on 15 carries behind suspect run blocking from Carolina’s offensive line.
Rivera said despite Williams’ questionable status, Williams may still get the start over Stewart. Fullback Mike Tolbert (chest) is probable.
Cotchery will be a game-day decision. He injured his hamstring Thursday during practice and did not participate on Friday. He stayed inside the facility and worked out in the indoor pool.
Avant was limited Friday after hurting his hamstring Wednesday. Cotchery believes the receiver corps will be fine even if one or both of them can’t play Sunday.
“Coach (Ricky) Proehl does a great job of getting guys ready to play,” Cotchery said. “Brenton Bersin, he’s been waiting for his opportunity. I’d say it’s one of those games he’ll probably go out there and go off. He’s always prepared. He obviously knows what to do. Every time he gets out there he makes a play. So we’re in good shape there. Philly Brown, he’s ready to play. He knows his stuff.”
With questions at receiver, as well as running back Fozzy Whittaker doubtful with a quad injury, Rivera and the coaching staff will consider bringing up a practice squad player for the game.
Running back Darrin Reaves and receivers Stephen Hill and Marcus Lucas would be the leading candidates to take the final spot on the 53-man roster should the Panthers add a player.
Jacket-less Cam: Quarterback Cam Newton practiced Friday without a flak jacket for the first time since cracking his ribs in an exhibition.
Newton will still wear the protective padding around his ribs during Sunday night’s game. But after weeks of Newton wanting to get used to how the flak jacket fit, Rivera is pleased Newton is comfortable enough to practice without it.
“If you watched him Wednesday at practice you’d think he’s horrible,” said Rivera, referring to Newton’s soreness and stiffness still lingering after Sunday’s win. “And then Thursday you see, OK, he’s getting it. And then Friday, this is what we’re looking for. His timing’s good, his delivery is good, his decision making is really good. It really was a good practice for him and for us all around.”
Make it loud: The Panthers piped in crowd noise in a rare move before a Sunday home game, but it wasn’t because the team is afraid of an influx of Steelers fans.
Rivera wanted the crowd noise for his defense and special teams, hoping that Panthers fans will be so loud when Pittsburgh is on offense that Carolina’s defense needs to get used to it.
“We’re believing that there will be a lot more Panthers fans and we’ll be able to keep them fired up and ready to go when we’re on defense and special teams,” Rivera said. “And we can get them to calm down and be excited when we’re on the offensive side.”
Rivera said Carolina did it last week leading up to the home opener against the Lions, last year before the Week 16 game against New Orleans and the playoff game against San Francisco.
Extra point: While fans will be tailgating before Carolina’s Sunday night game, Rivera will catch a few 1 p.m. games while going over his game plan. But that doesn’t mean he likes night games.
“I hate night games. I really do. I really do, because first of all I miss dinner,” Rivera said.