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Notes: Eight players return to practice


CHARLOTTE – The Panthers' injury report Thursday was just as long as it was the day before, but it was filled with good news nonetheless.

Once a player appears on the injury report in a given week, he must be listed the rest of the week per NFL rules. Thursday, eight of the nine players who did not participate Wednesday were listed as fully participating.

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday that many of the players were being given a day of rest, but a pair that involuntarily sat out returned to action. Defensive end Charles Johnson returned after taking a hit to the hip Wednesday, and fullback Mike Tolbert returned after passing a key stage in the NFL's concussion protocol.

"It's good to see. You saw a lot of guys with a little bit more energy today," Rivera said. "They were moving around pretty well. We'll try to be smart again tomorrow and give some rest to some of those guys, but Thursday is a pretty important day as far as putting your base in as well as doing nickel and red zone stuff."

The one player to again miss practice was defensive end Antwan Applewhite, who has been inactive the last two games and continues to miss practice with a hamstring injury. But the Panthers did welcome back defensive end Thomas Keiser, who has missed the last two games with an elbow injury.

"He participated, but you could tell he was laboring a little bit with the elbow," Rivera said. "He's not the same guy right now, so we've got to be careful and smart. He wants to be back on the football field so bad."

With Applewhite and Keiser missing time, rookie Nate Chandler has gotten some snaps the last two games. Chandler was listed as a defensive tackle on the practice squad but was signed to the 53-man roster as a defensive end, a position he had been playing on the scout team and that he played some at UCLA.

"The bigger transition has been getting used to the speed of the game," said Chandler, who had a tackle and a quarterback hurry in last Sunday's victory over the Washington Redskins. "I feel like it's going well. I have things to work on, but each game things are getting better."

GRATEFUL GETTIS: Wide receiver David Gettis said he will be nervous when he takes the field Sunday against the Denver Broncos for his first action in nearly two years, but not because of the knee and hamstring injuries that have sidelined him.

"I'll have butterflies, but it won't be because I'm feeling nervous about my injuries or anything like that," Gettis said. "Honestly, I have butterflies before every game."

That nervousness, however, is a feeling Gettis is welcoming back with open arms.

"It's a blessing to be back after a lot of hard work, not just from me but from the training staff and from my family praying for me. It's been a long time – a year and a half," he said. "This is what I love to do, what I've dreamed of doing since I was little. To have it taken away hurt, having to sit there and watch the team go on without you.

"You kind of feel like you don't belong in one sense, but it inspired me to work hard in my rehab to get back to being able to contribute."

Rivera said Wednesday that Gettis would contribute as the team's kickoff returner but hasn't yet said whether he'll have a role on offense.



SAFETY STRENGTHS:** Since Week 5, the Panthers have utilized both Haruki Nakamura and Sherrod Martin at safety, and the defense has benefited.

"Their consistency and the roles they have embraced on this defense have helped us get to where we are right now," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "What we've tried to do with those two is play to their strengths."

Nakamura plays in the base defense, and he's been accountable against the run and disruptive when his number has been called on blitzes. Against the Redskins, Nakamura logged five tackles and hit quarterback Robert Griffin III on a blitz to force an incompletion.

"You saw Haruki in the early part of the game come up and make some tackles. He was effective with his blitz game," McDermott said. "And then Sherrod over the top of the defense."

Martin plays in the sub package and has been steady in coverage when the opposition has been in obvious passing situations.

One of the few deep shots Washington took against Carolina came on a first down late in the fourth quarter, when Griffin launched a pass from midfield into the end zone for wide receiver Leonard Hankerson. Martin was over the top in coverage and made a play on the ball to force an incompletion.

"Our defensive backfield has started to solidify," Rivera said. "The rotation of the safeties has helped us out an awful lot."

O-LINE'S TALL ORDER: The Panthers and Broncos are tied for seventh in the league with 24 sacks apiece.

Denver features two of the NFL's most feared pass rushers in linebacker Von Miller and defensive end Elvis Dumervil. Miller leads the Broncos with nine sacks and Dumervil has six.

"It's a huge challenge. Those guys are wreaking havoc on the teams that they're playing against," offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said. "You have to do some things scheme-wise, and we have been, to try to help those (offensive tackles) out.

"At some point you have to block those guys one-on-one," Chudzinski added. "That'll be the challenge and theme of the week in both the run and the pass."

A consistent running game will help keep Miller and Dumervil on their heels, but right tackle Byron Bell knows the time will inevitably come when the Panthers' offensive line will be forced to win those one-on-one matchups on the edge.

"Me and (Jordan) Gross just need to play our game against Miller and Dumervil," Bell said. "We have to keep the chains moving, but if we get caught in a third-and-long situation, we get paid to protect so we are going to have to do our job and block them up."

Senior writer Bryan Strickland and staff writer Max Henson contributed to this report.

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