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Minutes: Happy returns

Posted Sep 9, 2009

Jonathan Stewart stretches before practice. (PHOTO: ANDREW MASON / PANTHERS.COM)


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.

Jon Beason roamed at middle linebacker, albeit with a brace on his knee. Thomas Davis and Na'il Diggs flanked him; both had endured some sideline time in recent weeks. Charles Godfrey patrolled at safety alongside Chris Harris, although Harris was limited after banging his knee during the session.

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 Brad Hoover.

"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 Jake Delhomme. "He's a great kid who works hard. I know he was frustrated. I know it's early, but so far, so good."

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 DeAngelo Williams on the sideline after his conditioning work was complete during training camp.

"It's kind of nice to have multiple guys back there where you know either one's good to go," said center Ryan Kalil. "Then when both of them are at their best, it's a lot of fun blocking for them and running."


Charles Godfrey fields a loose football Wednesday. (PHOTO: ANDREW MASON / PANTHERS.COM)

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 Damione Lewis. "(We were( getting turnovers, flying around, having all kinds of fun and really feeling comfortable about what we're doing."

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 Julius Peppers, linebacker Jon Beason and kicker John Kasay. The fifth captain's slot went to left tackle Jordan Gross, who is the third player in as many years to be named the second offensive captain.

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 Charly Martin. He was available after beings waived by the San Diego Chargers at the final cutdown on Saturday. Martin amassed 88 yards on seven catches and averaged 24.0 yards on three runbacks in the preseason. He posted gaudy numbers at West Texas A&M last year, leading Division II with 95 receptions for 1,867 yards and 22 touchdowns. He closed his college career with a Division II single-game postseason-record 343 yards on 14 catches against Abilene Christian, five of which went for touchdowns.

SPLIT SECONDS: Wednesday's practice was the first in a Panthers uniform for running back Tyrell Sutton and defensive tackle Sunny Harris ... Sutton earned some unsolicited praise from Beason. "He's running hard. It's like a game out there for him," Beason said.