CHARLOTTE – After finally making long-awaited contributions in the passing game, one might expect tight end Ed Dickson to appear elated.
But Dickson, who recorded seven of his 10 catches this season in the last seven games, isn't a youngster getting his first taste of individual success at this level. This is his fifth NFL season. He knows how things operate in this league. And he's just doing what's asked of him.
"I understand the bigger picture," explained Dickson, who made 10 starts this season when the Panthers opened with two tight ends. "This whole season 88 (tight end Greg Olsen) has been balling out. And we had two fullbacks go down. They needed me to play that position and I'll play the position – it doesn't matter.
"We got (fullback Mike Tolbert) healthy again, and I started to become a factor in the passing game."
He's been a very important factor.
In the NFC South-clinching victory against the Atlanta Falcons, his first touchdown catch of the season gave Carolina a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.
The week prior versus the Cleveland Browns, Dickson's 34-yard catch late in the fourth quarter helped seal a 17-13 win.
"It's all about opportunity," Dickson said.
And now he's getting more of them.
"Ed has been even better at the end of the year in regard to doing more things for us," offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. "We've been able to put him in more positions that maybe we didn't do earlier in the year. Thus, he's on the field more. When that happens, you are going to get more opportunities."
ALEXANDER DEBUTS: Defensive end Frank Alexander had to wait a long time. Sixteen weeks to be exact.
After a 14-game suspension, Alexander made his 2014 debut in Carolina's most important game of the season – the NFC South championship game against the Falcons.
Not exactly an opportunity to ease back into it.
"I was just excited to be out there. I wanted to play hard and see where I was after being out for so long," Alexander said. "It was kind of like riding a bike once you get that first series down. You get that confidence, and it becomes football. You just read your keys and react. If you mess up, you mess up at 110 percent."
Alexander played 22 snaps and finished with one tackle, but he was part of a defensive line rotation that dominated the game with six sacks and 12 quarterback hits.
Most importantly for Alexander, though, he was able to contribute to a win.
"It felt really good," Alexander said. "It was frustrating to sit there and have to watch on TV when you know you can be out there contributing. To get that opportunity, I cherished it. It was awesome."
PRACTICE UPDATE: The Panthers practiced at the Charlotte Convention Center on Tuesday, and Rivera was pleased with the toned-down session.
"I did appreciate the effort," head coach Ron Rivera said. "I told the guys we were trying to get a real good mental practice today.
"I was very pleased. This was good for our guys."
Running back Jonathan Stewart was given the day off, but Rivera said running back DeAngelo Williams took his full complement of reps and appears closer to returning to action. Williams missed the last four regular season games with a hand injury.
"(DeAngelo) is part of why we are where we are today," Rivera said. "When he's healthy and ready to go, he'll get his opportunities."
Backup quarterback Derek Anderson missed practice due to illness.
"Derek doesn't need a lot of reps," Rivera said. "We're not worried about him getting those practice reps, we are just worried about him getting healthy."