Lotulelei returns to full practice participation

RISING STAR: Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei took another step Wednesday toward being able to make his season debut, putting on pads and getting physical during preparations for Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints.

"It felt really good to get the pads on," Lotulelei said. "I was able to hit today for the first time in a while, so we'll see how it feels from there."

Lotulelei suffered a stress reaction in his surgically repaired right foot on August 3. He returned to practice on a limited basis last week and fully participated Wednesday.

"Star looked really good. He had a good day," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He didn't have any issues, took all the reps he was supposed to."

Rivera was asked if it felt like this would be the week Lotulelei is able to return.

"Yeah," Rivera said, "but I've been wrong."

KUECHLY KEPT OUT: Linebacker Luke Kuechly went through some exercises with his teammates during warmups Wednesday but was still unable to practice. Kuechly suffered a concussion late in the first half of the season opener 10 days ago and hasn't yet been able to practice.

"That's part of the protocol, going through some training just to see where he is," Rivera said. "He's taking strides, but he's still in the protocol."

CAREFUL WITH COTCHERY: Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, who suffered a high ankle sprain in Sunday's home opener against the Houston Texans, didn't make an appearance on the practice field Wednesday but could test out the ankle Thursday.

Depending on the severity though, recovery from high ankle sprains can be a matter of weeks rather than days.

"He actually had a good day with the trainers today. Tomorrow we may get him out there to see how he handles it," Rivera said. "If it's improved vastly, who knows? If not, we'll go from there.

"The guy is valuable, so we have to be smart whether this is a one-week, two-week, three-week or four-week deal."

REST FOR THE REST: For the second consecutive week, running back Jonathan Stewart got a day of rest Wednesday. This time, he had company.

Defensive end Charles Johnson, safety Roman Harper, defensive tackle Kyle Love and guard Trai Turner all sat out practice.

"They're all listed with some nick or knack, but that's just part of it," Rivera said. "They could have practiced."

REHABBING RECEIVERS: Wide receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Stephen Hill saw their seasons end before they even started, but both are off to good starts in their recovery from knee surgery.

"They're moving right along, and as far as I know everybody is pleased with their progress," Rivera said. "From 6:30 (a.m.) to about nine o'clock, the guys that are active are getting treatment, and then once we all go to meetings, those guys come in and start working with the trainers.

"Kelvin had his surgery and is already into his rehab. He's done a great job. Stephen had his as well, and those guys are undergoing treatments."

View photos from the Panthers' week of practice leading up to their game versus the Saints.

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