CHARLOTTE – It's hard to tell whether Cam Newton himself or head coach Ron Rivera is more excited about Newton making his preseason debut. It's easy to tell which one is more nervous about it.
While Newton can't wait for the chance to compete, that competitive nature combined with some serious scrambling skills makes Rivera a bit nervous about Newton's first game action Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.
"He can't help himself because he loves to compete and wants to win," Rivera said. "That is a concern, that he'll get out there and see something, and the next thing you know he's doing his thing.
"That's just who he is. He's very competitive. He wants to win."
Newton did not play in the Panthers' preseason opener last Friday to give his surgically repaired ankle more time to strengthen.
"Anytime you get an opportunity to compete – whether you're practicing or in actual game action – it's always positive," Newton said. "Whether it's preseason or practice, you're working to get better with the meshing of players and the execution of the game plan."
Newton said that "whatever Coach says, I'm for it." Thursday, after the Panthers' first practice since training camp ended on Tuesday, Rivera wasn't ready to say how much Newton would play.
"We'll see," Rivera said. "We'll evaluate how he's doing and how the offensive line is playing as we decide how long we want to keep him in there. But right now the initial plan is to get him through the first quarter and then go from there."
Rivera did say that safeties Roman Harper and Tre Boston, as well wide receiver De'Andre Presley, have already been ruled out for Sunday's game. While Boston – the Panthers' fourth-round draft choice – continues to deal with a groin injury, Harper's injury has devolved into the turf toe.
The good news is that Harper may already be through the worst of it and will be re-evaluated the day after the Chiefs game.
"As they went back and reevaluated, they saw that it had turned into turf toe. That's why he's missed as much time as he has," Rivera said. "We've got to be smart with that. He's a veteran guy that's staying engaged and involved.
"He ran some more today, moved around a little bit more, and the foot is getting stronger."
Presley, on the other hand, is facing surgery for a stress fracture that could put his season in jeopardy.
Linebacker Chase Blackburn and tight end Greg Olsen also missed practice Thursday after Blackburn tweaked his back and Olsen got kicked in the back of his calf, but defensive end Charles Johnson (hamstring) returned to practice along with rookie bookend Kony Ealy.
"It was good having Kony back out there," Rivera said of the Panthers' second-round draft pick. "He's a young man who has made a lot of strides and played very well for us. Him missing a couple of days set him back just a little bit, but him coming back today and practicing the way he did, I'm excited to see him on the field again."