Notes: Newton keeping head up

CHARLOTTE – Quarterback Cam Newton finds the Panthers' protracted struggles to be frustrating, but he's doing his best to not get frustrated.

"That's the thing that can't happen because frustration isn't going to make things better; it's just going to allow people to push the panic button," Newton said. "You just deal with it. You realize that rainy days don't last. This situation is testing a lot of individuals, including myself and coaches as well other players.

"The truth is we've got guys that are battling their tails off each and every game, each and every practice, playing hurt, battling through injuries, trying to find a way."

Newton threw seven touchdowns against two interceptions in his first five games of the season, when the Panthers went 2-2-1, but he's thrown six touchdowns against nine interceptions over the Panthers' six-game losing streak.

Newton is seeing signs that the offense might be ready to escape its recent funk, but the only signs that count are the ones on game day.

"We all wish on Sundays when we don't play as well as we could that we could go back out there and keep playing till we get it right. But it's not practice; you get judged on production on Sunday," Newton said. "You guys don't report on how practice went today – we had a great practice – because you don't get judged off practice. You get judged on what the final product is, and we have to focus on that and get things to carry over from practice."

INJURY UPDATE: Head coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers are "close to" ruling out running back DeAngelo Williams and offensive lineman Amini Silatolu for Sunday's game at the New Orleans Saints.

While Silatolu missed last week's game at Minnesota, Williams fractured a bone in right hand against the Vikings.

"He has a cast on right now," Rivera said. "We'll see how it goes. He's out there working hard, doing the things he needs to, but gripping the ball is the concern."

Center Ryan Kalil and defensive end Kony Ealy were sent home early Thursday with a stomach virus. But tight end Greg Olsen (knee) returned to practice, and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei could be close to returning after missing the last two games with an ankle injury.

"Star is closing in. He did some really nice things today," Rivera said. "It was nice to see him on the football field. He moved around really well. He looked explosive. We're concerned about how the pushing and shoving will affect him, but he seems to be handling it very nicely."

GETTING HIS NICKEL'S WORTH: The decision to move rookie Bene Benwikere to a starting cornerback spot has solidified safety Colin Jones' role as nickel back or "Buffalo" as Carolina calls it.

That's exciting news for Jones, a third-year Panther who had been relegated to special teams and emergency roles on defense his first two seasons with Carolina.

"I love the nickel role, and I want to help the team as much as I can. It's been a lot of fun," Jones said. "It's real similar to what I played in college (at Texas Christian). It's just taken some time to develop mentally as far as understanding the position with your eyes. That takes time, and it's fun to be doing it after waiting awhile."

HARDY STOPS BY: Rivera said that defensive end Greg Hardy, who hadn't been to Bank of America Stadium since going on the exempt/commissioner's permission list on September 17, did so last Saturday before the Panthers left for Minnesota.

"He came by and saw some of the guys," Rivera said. "He looks fit and in shape. I had a chance to talk to him a bit, and we had a nice conversation. He's trying to keep himself busy, waiting to find out what his situation and circumstances are going to be."

With Hardy's legal situation still pending, it's unlikely the 2013 Pro Bowler will return this season.

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