CHARLOTTE – Quarterback Cam Newton is probable on the Panthers' injury report for Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, the most positive designation a player can have after missing a game because of injury.
Head coach Ron Rivera still doesn't want to make it official that Newton will start because he's waiting for the final sign-off from team doctors. But all indications are that Newton will be under center less than two weeks after breaking two bones in his back in a car accident.
"Everything is pointing in the right direction," Rivera said. "He did a lot of turning and twisting today. We put a lot of pressure on him, did some things on purpose so we could see, and he seems to be right on track.
"He did really well today in terms of the amount of stress we put on him. He's done a nice job and has a good handle on what we want to do. I like the way he practiced. Everything is positive."
The Panthers want Newton to be close to 100 percent and able to protect himself if they're going to play him over Derek Anderson, who led Carolina to a victory over Tampa Bay last week. Rivera said Newton won't wear any extra protection and appears to be healthy enough – pending final medical clearance – to pick up where he left off in a 41-10 victory at New Orleans two weeks ago.
"They both bring a lot to the table," Rivera said of Newton and Anderson, "but Cam brings that extra dimension with his ability to run. That was big for us against New Orleans. He had a really good rhythm, and we're hoping he can recapture some of that."
On the other hand, Rivera expects running back DeAngelo Williams to miss his third consecutive game with a broken bone in his hand. Williams is questionable on the injury report along with linebacker A.J. Klein (ankle), offensive lineman Amini Silatolu (knee) and cornerback Carrington Byndom (hamstring).
"DeAngelo took some reps today, but the biggest thing is with that fracture in the hand, it's about pass protection," Rivera said. "He's getting close. He did some things where he used it and struck with it, but he's still uncomfortable. We don't want to put him in a situation where he takes a shot and he's done. We have to be smart about it.
"A.J. did a little bit more today. We'll see how he is. He moved all right as far as I'm concerned, but we'll see how he is."
Defensive end Frank Alexander enjoyed a strong week of practice after having his suspension lifted by the NFL, but Rivera isn't yet sure if Alexander will play Sunday. The Panthers have until Monday to add Alexander to the 53-man roster, a move that would require cutting somebody from the roster.
"Frank progressed very well, had a good week of practice," Rivera said. "We have the roster exemption, and we'll talk about it.
"I visited with some of the coaches as to how they felt about the week that he had, and they've been very positive about it. He looks in great shape, and if we had to play him, they feel he could give them 30 snaps, 40 snaps."
The Panthers had a special guest at practice Friday from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Andy Giarla, who played offensive line last fall less than four months removed from a Stage 4 brain cancer diagnosis, attended practice and hung out with linebacker Luke Kuechly and other players after practice. The offensive lineman from Parkwood High School in Waxhaw, N.C., will serve as Keep Pounding drummer for Sunday's game.
"It was nice to see him, good to see the enthusiasm he has for the team," Rivera said. "Anytime you know that somebody is fighting the good fight and is in an unfortunate situation, you appreciate how things are for you. Hopefully, we can make things better for him."
The Panthers also announced an off-the-field move Friday. Charlie Dayton, the organization's director of communications since its inception, is stepping down effective January 1 and will serve as the new director of historical and alumni services. Steven Drummond, a member of Dayton's staff since 2005, will be promoted to director of communications.