CHARLOTTE – The wait is almost over.
For the first time since New Year's Day, Cam Newton will suit up on a game day.
The Panthers quarterback, who on Wednesday morning showed up to Bank of America Stadium feeling fine after another full practice, is set to start Thursday night's preseason affair against the Jaguars.
Newton last played when the Panthers and Buccaneers wrapped up last season in Tampa Bay. He underwent surgery on a partially torn rotator cuff in March, and despite a two-week respite from throwing earlier this month, the Panthers have remained confident they'll have their most important player available in Week 1.
They've also been cautious with rookie wide receiver Curtis Samuel, who was shut down early in training camp with a strained hamstring. But like Newton, the Panthers feel Samuel is ready to make his preseason debut.
The second-round pick began slowly increasing his workload over the past couple of weeks, and when he returned to team drills Monday, he joined the No. 1 offense for a handful of snaps.
While most of the starters will play into the second half Thursday night, the plan is different for Newton and Samuel.
"We wouldn't take the guys that are coming back and expect them to play all the way into the third quarter," Rivera said after Tuesday's practice.
But it's at least another step toward the regular season opener at San Francisco.
"I am excited because it will be an opportunity to see (Newton) out there with all the different players we brought in, all the different playmakers that we believe we have," Rivera said. "It should be fun."