CHARLOTTE – A running game that took a step forward Sunday could be in position to put its best foot forward Thursday.
Running back Ryan Kalil is expected to play for the first time in more than a month when the New Orleans Saints visit Bank of America Stadium, head coach Ron Rivera said Monday.
Williams will join running back Christian McCaffrey in the backfield. Stewart rushed for 79 yards on 16 carries in Sunday's 13-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, a season high for Carolina running backs.
The best previous high was 72 yards in the season opener by Williams, who hasn't played since suffering an ankle injury Week 4 at the Baltimore Ravens.
"DeAngelo has signified that he's ready to roll. I'm excited about that," Rivera said. "It will be a nice boost because when he and Jonathan get rolling and do the things that they do, I think that's a huge thing for us. That can be a nice shot in the arm."
There is concern about who will be healthy enough to block for Williams and Stewart. Offensive tackles Nate Chandler (groin) and Byron Bell (elbow) were limited against the Seahawks with Chandler sitting out 42 percent of the offensive snaps and Bell missing a handful. Rookie David Foucault, the only other tackle on the active roster, played half the snaps, seeing action at both left and right tackle.
Rivera said the status of Chandler and Bell is the team's biggest health concern on a short week.
"We'll look at some things and what our options are," Rivera said. "It is a short week, but we've got to do something."
Rivera isn't yet sure if left guard Amini Silatolu (calf) will be able to play after missing the last two weeks. Right guard Trai Turner (ankle, knee sprains) likelyh will miss his second consecutive game despite getting his walking boot removed.
Rivera compared Turner's situation to that of nickel corner Bene Benwikere, who has missed three consecutive games with an ankle injury. Benwikere's status for the Saints game isn't yet clear. Same goes for safety Thomas DeCoud, who left the Seahawks game with a hamstring injury but said after the game that he'd be ready for Thursday.
It's been a difficult season in terms of injuries for the Panthers (3-4-1), and it has caught up with them as the Saints (3-4) have caught up with them atop the NFC South standings.
Rivera likened this year's challenges to those faced by the 2008 San Diego Chargers. Rivera started that season coaching the inside linebackers but took over as defensive coordinator midseason. That team started 4-8 before finishing 8-8 to win the AFC West and a playoff game.
"The thing we did was maintain," Rivera said. "We just kept plugging along one week at a time, one week at a time, started to get healthy, started to get guys back on the football field, one week at a time, one week at a time.
"We've got to get healthy and play to the best of our abilities. That's what we're going to do."