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Key trio returns to practice

CHARLOTTE – When the Panthers began preparations in earnest Wednesday for their NFC Division Playoff against Seattle, they did so with virtually all hands on deck.

No doubt the bye week and the wise approach head coach Ron Rivera took toward injuries late in the regular season had a hand in the improved health.

"The bye treated us well," wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. said. "We went out and fought for the bye, and we got it. On the back end, it's helping us out. We're happy to be able to get ourselves together and then go out and compete.

"It's great to have everybody on the field."

Everybody included three key players who missed the regular season finale prior to the playoff bye in Ginn, running back Jonathan Stewart and safety Kurt Coleman. Running back Fozzy Whittaker, hampered by a high ankle sprain was the only exception.

"The bye week served its purpose," Rivera said. "A lot of guys got a lot of good work today."

The news was especially encouraging in the case of Stewart, who actually sat out the last four games of the regular season with a foot injury. Rivera said there would be no limitations of Stewart's role against Seattle, a sentiment that Stewart echoed.

"I'm at my team's disposal. Whatever it takes," Stewart said. "It's been a month or so, so being able to get out there and get into the groove felt good. My foot is back to normal, as much as it can be, and I'm just going to take it day-by-day and catch back up with the pace of the team and get going with this playoff run."

Stewart added that he's almost entirely back to his best in terms of conditioning.

"I don't feel left behind," he said. "Conditioning-wise, I feel just about there. Injury-wise, I feel explosive.

"I've got fresh legs, and this is where it counts."

Even when healthy, Stewart often was among a group of veterans during the regular season who didn't practice most Wednesdays for maintenance purposes. On this particular Wednesday, however, everyone was in action.

"Their energy level was high, and mistakes were down to the very minimum," Rivera said. "The guys were really focused and sharp. That's the type of practice tempo that you need."

And Stewart and Ginn are the type of performers the Panthers need to combat the challenge Seattle poses.

"They're great playmakers," wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. "Stew is a great tone-setter, a guy that runs hard every time he gets the ball and makes a lot of plays. Same thing with Ted – just a playmaker. It's good to have them in the lineup."

Added quarterback Cam Newton: "Teddy is looking fast; Jonathan is looking strong. That's what you want."

View photos from the Panthers' week of practice leading up to their game against the Seahawks.

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