Four takeaways from Wednesday's practice

NEARING FULL STRENGTH: Defensive end Charles Johnson and wide receiver Devin Funchess increased their workload during Wednesday's practice. In addition to position drills, they both took limited reps in team periods.

Johnson said his injured calf doesn't feel 100 percent just yet, but it's getting there. He fully expects to be ready for the regular season opener but would like get some work in the preseason beforehand.

"I feel like I do," Johnson said when asked if he wants to play in the preseason. "I don't want my first time on the field to be against Jacksonville."

Head coach Ron Rivera echoed that sentiment.

"Very much so. That's an important element to it," Rivera said. "You don't want their first live contact to be the opener.

"We want to be smart about it. We want to make sure he's ready to roll, because he's such an important part of what we do defensively. Getting him some reps, whether it be this weekend or next Thursday (in the preseason finale), is going to be very important."

Rivera said they'll see how Johnson and Funchess (hamstring) react Thursday morning before making any determination about their availability for Friday's game against the New England Patriots.

O-LINE GETTING HEALTHIER: Offensive linemen Nate Chandler (knee) and Amini Silatolu (calf) returned to practice on Wednesday.

Chandler took part in team periods and worked at left tackle. Silatolu, who has not yet played in the preseason, took part in position drills but was a spectator during team periods.

WILLIAMS RETURNS: Tight end Brandon Williams (groin) was taken off the physically unable to perform list and he practiced for the first time Wednesday. Williams, who didn't practice at all during training camp, spoke about his return.

EXTRA POINTS: Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei made an appearance at practice and was no longer wearing a protective boot on his injured foot. Lotulelei spent time on the bike before returning inside with a member of the training staff.

Defensive end Frank Alexander, who tore his right Achilles tendon in the second preseason game and was subsequently waived/injured, has officially been placed on injured reserve.

View practice photos from the third week of the preseason.

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