CHARLOTTE -- It took a little more than a month of training-camp practices, nagging injuries and the lineup shuffles they spawned, but on Wednesday morning, the Panthers finally took on their intended form.
But perhaps the biggest mystery of all was solved with the return of running back Jonathan Stewart, who missed the entire preseason while nursing a sore Achilles tendon.
"He looked like he ran well. It's just nice to see him out there running around. I think he feels the same way," said fullback
"I feel pretty good," Stewart concurred. "I'm pretty sure I'm going to need to get that to a level to where I can carry more than three times in a row at game time. I've just got to work myself in at the right speed."
After Stewart made it through the entire practice, head coach John Fox revealed the running back's August rest and his work Wednesday was part of the plan to have him available for the regular season.
"We just didn't want it to be a month during the regular season. The good news is it was a month during the preseason," Fox said. "That was the plan, and if we had our druthers that is the way we'd prefer it."
"It was good to see him back out there," added quarterback
Stewart still has to get up to speed with his teammates, who were immersed in offensive installation while he watched and rode a stationary bicycle.
"You've got to get the chemistry and timing down, and today went well with that," Stewart said. "I haven't been out of the loop on a lot of things. I felt fine."
But the 2008 first-round pick was never far from the offense, and often would stand with
"It's kind of nice to have multiple guys back there where you know either one's good to go," said center
JUST AS PLEASED to be on the field was Godfrey, who lingered about practice last week but was back to full-scale work on Wednesday with a cast on his left hand. But when Godfrey returned to the locker room, the cast was gone. The only evidence of the fractured hand he suffered Aug. 22 was a two-inch scar from the subsequent surgery.
"I take it on and off. I was never walking around with a (set) cast," Godfrey said.
"I'm trying different things out now in practice, just to see what feels best. It's healed, though. I'm ready to go."
When asked about the details of the surgery and whether any screws were left in his hand, Godfrey shrugged.
"I don't know. I was out, man," he said. "I said, 'Just fix me,' so I can get back out on the field."
RATCHETING UP: Some practices during training camp saw more physical contact, but numerous players said that Wednesday's session was the most intense to date this year.
"I think we had a good practice today -- probably the best we've had all year," said defensive tackle
Added Beason: "You can definitely tell the level of intensity picked up from camp to now. You can tell guys are more focused."
Having a true game plan for the first time this season will do that.
"I think guys were a little more upbeat, a little more task-focused," Hoover said. "You just prepare. The main thing is you're preparing for a very formidable opponent coming in here."
O CAPTAINS, MY CAPTAINS: Four of the five team captains remained unchanged from last year -- quarterback Jake Delhomme, defensive end
Peppers' selection follows an offseason in which he was absent from mini-camp and organized team activities while his contract was resolved.
"It's a tribute to what he has done here," Beason said. "He's been the face of the defense for eight years now. I think the guys on this team -- we vote collectively, offense and defense vote for both. I think guys know that he's a quiet leader, but he takes care of his job.
"Making him team captain, that's saying, 'Look, we expect you to play like that.' So I think he's happy about it. It was nothing unexpected."
ONE MORE ADDITION: The Panthers filled out their practice squad by signing rookie wide receiver
SPLIT SECONDS: Wednesday's practice was the first in a Panthers uniform for running back