CHARLOTTE – Left tackle Jordan Gross, wide receiver Steve Smith, linebacker Thomas Davis, center Ryan Kalil, quarterback Cam Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly will represent the 2013 Carolina Panthers as team captains.
Because of their leadership qualities and years of service to the organization, head coach Ron Rivera tabbed Gross and Smith as automatic captains. This will be Gross' sixth year as a captain and Smith's fifth.
"I'm proud," Gross said. "This is my sixth year. I'm probably as proud of that as I am of anything, just because that means your teammates think highly of you."
The players then voted on the four other spots, electing Davis for the third conecutive year and three first-time captains in Kalil, Newton and Kuechly.
"We have two guys (Gross and Smith) that are senior leaders that are always there," Rivera said. "But we have young guys that have the opportunity now to step up – their teammates are looking to them to lead. They are both at key positions – one is a quarterback, the other one is a middle linebacker – so I'm excited about that.
"But it's not like you don't have other guys that can step up at any point. There are a lot of guys that don't get the 'C' that still have the ability to step forward and make a difference."
In regards to Newton, Rivera said the quarterback's appointment was another sign of his growth as a leader.
"I think it's significant," Rivera said. "This is part of his growth. He continues to step up and show his leadership abilities."
On the defensive side of the ball, both the returning captain and the first-timer expressed excitement.
"It's very exciting knowing that it's something that's voted on by your peers and that your teammates think that much of you," Davis said. "It means a lot to me. Wearing the 'C' on your chest, a lot of responsibility comes with it. You're expected to be a leader, to be a guy that goes out and leads by example."
Said Kuechly: "It's definitely cool. I've just got to keep playing well. Everybody is looking to you now, but really we have a bunch of guys on our defense that are captains in their own right like Dwan (Edwards) and Charles (Johnson) and (Jon) Beason.
"Everybody is looking at you. You can't have a day when you're not working hard."
INJURY UPDATE: The Panthers are preparing for the possibility of playing a couple of people at left guard in Sunday's opener against the Seattle Seahawks.
Rivera said that starting left guard Amini Silatolu continues to show progress in his recovery from a hamstring injury but called him a "long shot" for Week 1. If Silatolu can't play, recent free agent signings Travelle Wharton and Chris Scott could split time there.
"We're still looking at what our rotation is going to be," Rivera said. "We haven't decided between Chris Scott and Travelle Wharton, but they both will play."
The Panthers took a positive step Thursday toward having more options at running back and linebacker come Sunday.
Fullback Mike Tolbert, who didn't see any action in the preseason because of a hamstring injury, fully participated in practice Thursday. That's a good sign he'll be ready to share the load with DeAngelo Williams and Armond Smith in the opener.
Running back Kenjon Barner continues to miss practice with a foot injury suffered in the third preseason game at Balitmore, and safety Mike Mitchell (calf) and Dwan Edwards (thigh) also sat out practice Thursday. While Edwards was a new addition to the injury report, Mitchell did not participate Thursday after practicing on a limited basis Wednesday.
On the other hand, linebacker Jon Beason (knee) returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday. Rivera estimated that Beason would play 25-35 snaps in the opener, likely only in the base defense.
"He looked good and felt good. He moved around very well, so I'm very happy about that," Rivera said. "It's a lot like what happened with Thomas (Davis) last year. We want to bring him along, bring him along, and then when he's ready to go cut him loose."
GREAT SCOTT: General manager Dave Gettleman recently mentioned that Scott was a player making a nice impression who had gone largely unnoticed.
Scott was signed as a free agent during the first week of training camp and has taken advantage of an opportunity to play with the first team.
"Chris Scott has been solid, he's done a lot of good things for us," Rivera said. "He's a little bit of a find for us. He's done a nice job fitting in as far as playing left guard or right guard. We feel pretty good about what he's done."
Gross also had a positive review of Scott's work so far.
"He's really impressed me," Gross said. "He's picked up the offense very fast. He's a big, physical guy, and I think he knows that he needs to find a home. He's bounced around a lot for his short career. He seems to fit in well here."
Senior writer Bryan Strickland and staff writer Max Henson contributed to this report.