Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton returns to practice

Cam Newton returned to practice Monday for the first time since cracking a rib in the preseason, and he had extra padding to prepare him for Sunday at Tampa Bay.

Though the beefed-up flak jacket might protect Newton’s ribs from defenders, it does no good against ribbing from his teammates.

“I told him in case of a water landing it can be used as a floatation device,” center Ryan Kalil said. “He didn’t think that was funny, though.”

The Panthers re-evaluated Newton this weekend, and he threw 25 passes before coming back to the facility Sunday to work out in the weight room and the underwater treadmill.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera reiterated he expects Newton to start Sunday at Tampa Bay.

Newton fractured his rib on Aug. 22 against the Patriots when New England linebacker Jamie Collins kneed Newton in the back after Newton went down on a 7-yard scramble. Though he was wearing rib protection, the impact struck Newton in a crease.

Newton came to practice Monday wearing game pads rather the shells like his teammates. That’s because the equipment staff and training staff are working with the flak jacket manufacturers to find the best fit for Newton.

Tight end Greg Olsen said he didn’t see much of a difference in Newton on the field Monday.

“He looked good throwing. I thought he moved around pretty well,” Olsen said. “Cam’s a tough guy. He’s a big, strong dude. If there’s one thing the team knows it’s if there’s any way for him to be out there and playing at a high level, he will. There’s not a lot of concern for that guy from the rest of the team.”

With all the focus on Newton’s ribs, his surgically repaired ankle has gotten less attention. The Panthers had Newton running zone-read plays before the rib injury, but he is still rehabbing his left ankle.

“I wouldn’t say it’s an issue as much as it’s still part of his program,” Rivera said. “He still comes in and spends time with (head athletic trainer) Ryan (Vermillion) and they stretch it and turn it and twist it.”