Former Carolina tight end Jeremy Shockey is the only Panthers player in the past four years to play a week after being in the concussion protocol.
Rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin may be the second.
Benjamin is listed as questionable to play in Sunday’s game at Green Bay one week after suffering a concussion against the Bengals. Benjamin complained of a headache on Monday and has been in the protocol since.
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On Friday, he participated fully in practice. He still has to be cleared by an independent doctor before playing against the Packers.
“He did a nice job with it, but again I’m not the one judging it,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said after practice.
“Now he looked good on the field. I thought he practiced well. He looked sharp. I really don’t think he had a (mental error). He did all of his assignments that he was supposed to do. He took a lot of reps today, which I understand is part of the protocol is to have him go out and practice and see how he does and then evaluate later. My understanding is that would be (Saturday), as far as to see how he is.”
Benjamin leads the Panthers with 416 receiving yards on 31 catches and four touchdowns. He’s first among all NFL rookies in receiving yards and touchdowns and second in receptions.
The Packers could be without both of their starting cornerbacks. Sam Shields has been ruled out with a knee injury while fellow cornerback Tramon Williams is questionable with an ankle injury.
Injury update: Rivera confirmed Jonathan Stewart will start at running back for Carolina and take the majority of snaps with Chris Ogbonnaya as his primary backup.
It will be Stewart’s first game action since suffering a knee sprain in Week 3’s game against Pittsburgh.
Running backs DeAngelo Williams (ankle) and Fozzy Whittaker (quad) sat out of practice again Friday and they are doubtful. Darrin Reaves (calf) was limited in practice and is questionable to play.
Along with Williams and Whittaker, cornerback Bené Benwikere (ankle), linebacker Chase Blackburn (knee) and guard Amini Silatolu (calf) are doubtful. Charles Godfrey will start at nickel and Fernando Velasco will get the start at left guard in place of Silatolu.
After missing two practices with an ankle injury, tight end Greg Olsen practiced fully Friday and is probable. Cornerback Josh Norman is still in the concussion protocol but participated fully in practice and is also probable.
In the zone read: The Panthers are looking to replicate the success of the read option from last week against the Packers, who have the league’s worst rushing defense, this week.
Cam Newton rushed 17 times for 107 yards last week, and a number of those yards came off the read option. The Packers struggled mightily last week against the Dolphins’ read option with a much-less dynamic Ryan Tannehill at quarterback.
“I’d imagine they’re working on it now,” Rivera said earlier this week. “You’ve got to have another plan. We’ll see. Knowing our coaches and what they’re doing, we’re going to look at things as well. We’re not going to go in and say what we did last week is going to work because they had trouble with it. They’re going to practice it.”
Newton said he was surprised to see he had rushed 17 times but did whatever the coaches asked of him last week.
“If that’s what it takes to win, I’m willing to do it all over again,” Newton said Wednesday. “And I think anybody else would have that same mentality.
“The things that we do see on film we have to take full advantage of it. (The Packers are) a very athletic bunch, we know that. Anything that possesses an edge on our end we’re going to try to target that as best we can.”
Should Carolina run the read option against the Packers, it will likely be with Stewart rather than Ogbonnaya. Stewart and Newton have a familiarity with one another having played for more than three seasons together. Ogbonnaya signed with Carolina less than three weeks ago.
“You’ve got to know the feel,” Rivera said. “You’ve got to know how much pressure to apply over the tops of his arms when he sticks the ball in your gut as opposed to when to take and when not to.”
Challenging Rivera: Rivera has been less than successful on challenges in his career.
Rivera has won just three challenges out of 14 tries in his three-plus-year career as head coach. He lost a challenge last week against the Bengals disputing the spot of the ball.
“The thing that’s interesting about it is we have a perspective,” Rivera said. “We look at it and see it a certain way. They look at it and see a certain way and that’s the way it goes. That’s the hard part. A few of those challenges I’ve taken just to take the timeout. So I expected to lose. It’s a slim chance, but what the heck? I haven’t used it, I have plenty of time left, I have a timeout and now’s a great time to take a timeout.”
Rivera recalled a challenge he lost at Houston in 2011 when he wanted to stop the Texans from moving the ball down the field so quickly. He figured he would lose the ball spot challenge, but he thought it was a good time to take a timeout midway through the third quarter.
Rivera said when considering to challenge a play he factors in what his players say, their immediate reactions as well as the opponent’s reactions.
He said he has sent video of challenges he lost to the NFL, and on a few occasions the league has said Rivera was right.