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DE Johnson out again; RB Williams "a concern"


CHARLOTTE – The Panthers' rotation at running back and cornerback is up in the air for Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while the defensive end rotation will again be without sack leader Charles Johnson.

Johnson will miss his second consecutive game with a knee injury, but head coach Ron Rivera likes what he's seen from reserves Mario Addison and Frank Alexander and likes Johnson's prospects for next week.

"Mario showed us some really good stuff, as did Frank. Hopefully we can get that kind of play again to replace Charles Johnson," Rivera said Friday. "C.J. is huge for us, but unfortunately we don't have him so it's by committee right now.

"I think he's got every opportunity to play next week. He had a big day today. Watching him go through his paces with the training staff and strength and conditioning guys, it got me pretty excited that he's getting close."

Three running backs are questionable, but only one is of significant concern to Rivera. DeAngelo Williams, who leads the Panthers with 610 rushing yards, didn't practice all week after suffering a quad contusion last Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. Mike Tolbert (knee) and Jonathan Stewart (ankle) both practiced on a limited basis Thursday and Friday and should be available.

"A lot of concern with DeAngelo. Everyone else, we'll see how they are tomorrow. They had good practices today," Rivera said. "Without DeAngelo, you'd have Jonathan, Mike Tolbert and Kenjon Barner. That's still a pretty formidable group. We'll see."

It's also a wait-and-see situation at cornerback. Rivera said that Captain Munnerlyn, the one corner to start every game this season, would man the nickel position, but Rivera wasn't ready to say if Munnerlyn would start at corner.

Rookie Melvin White has started the last five games opposite Munnerlyn, who got beat a couple of times deep against Miami. But Drayton Florence and Josh Thomas are options as well, and Josh Norman has been active the last two weeks.

"You want to give guys something other than just having them sit there saying, 'Well, I'm a backup,' " Rivera said. "We haven't decided on the combinations or rotations. We are going to play the guys that have had the best week. We're going to talk about it, watch the tape and make our decisions as we go forward.

"Ever since Drayton Florence got back and has gotten his opportunity, he's made a difference. He has his role and knows his role. He's doing a great job and showing these young guys how to do things. Melvin White has been outstanding. He's gotten opportunities and has taken advantage. Josh Thomas did a great job last week when he got an opportunity. Josh Norman has been working hard. He's going to get a chance as well. We'll see what happens."

Guard Chris Scott (knee) has been ruled out for the fourth consecutive game, and tight end Ben Hartsock (knee) is doubtful and in danger of missing his third consecutive game. Linebacker Chase Blackburn (foot), who missed the last two games, was limited in practice all week and is questionable.

Wide receiver Steve Smith missed practice Thursday with a sore knee but fully participated Friday.

"I'm not concerned about Steve at all," Rivera said.

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