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Notes: Stewart returns to practice


CHARLOTTE – Running back Jonathan Stewart returned to practice Wednesday after missing the season opener in Tampa Bay with an injured ankle.

"Full participation, took his normal reps," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He looked good. He started a little slow in terms of cutting; he was a little apprehensive I think. As practice went on (the ankle) loosened up more and more. I expect him to be out there (tomorrow).

Stewart is hoping to play Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.

"I'm making progress," Stewart said. "I'm pretty optimistic."

His teammates are eager to see him back in action as well.

"I certainly hope he plays," fullback Mike Tolbert said. "He looked pretty good today at practice, but only time will tell."

Elsewhere on the injury front, wide receiver Steve Smith was limited in practice. He wore a knee brace in practice as a precaution after taking hit to the side of the knee against the Buccaneers. Rivera added that he expects Smith to play "without a doubt" on Sunday.

Linebacker Kenny Onatolu did not participate due to the death of his mother and will be away from the team for a couple days. Center Jeff Byers (knee) was a full participant.

KUECHLY LEARNS FROM DEBUT: Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott agreed that rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly was over-aggressive during the Buccaneers' scoring drive on the opening series of the Week 1 contest.

Tampa Bay took advantage of that over-pursuit with misdirection and play-action at the start, but Kuechly settled in as the game went on.

On Wednesday, Kuechly acknowledged the need to play more under control from start to finish in Week 2.

"I need to do a better job of just slowing down a little bit and doing what I'm supposed to do," Kuechly said. "I was trying to do a little too much. I just need to do my job as part of the defense."




ALEXANDER'S PLACE: After a strong preseason that carried over to his first official NFL game, rookie defensive end Frank Alexander went out and got his own place – in the Panthers locker room.

"It's nice, getting to have my own space," said Alexander, who shared a locker with fellow fourth-round draft pick Joe Adams throughout the preseason. "Me and Joe made do, but it's nice having my own locker.

"Me, him and Steve Smith used to call it the gated community over there. Now that I've moved out, I've got to check in at the gate before I come over. That's what Steve says."

During the preseason with as many as 90 players on the roster, the Panthers didn't have enough room for every player to have a locker. Sunday against Tampa Bay, Alexander didn't give quarterback Josh Freeman much free space, deflecting a pair of third-down passes.

"In college, they always told us that if you can't get the sack, get your hands up, because you might bat the ball down, and that can be just as big as a sack," Alexander said. "I tried to do a good job on the rush and then get my hands up.

"I was nervous at first, but once you get that first play under way and you see what the tempo is, you make the adjustment, and it's time to go."

KEISER KEEN ON VERSATILITY: Thomas Keiser led the Panthers with 4.5 sacks in the preseason, but the defensive end was inactive to start the season in Tampa Bay.

Rivera said that decision was based on a "numbers issue" and added that the staff felt more comfortable with other options on special teams.

Keiser is determined to prove to the coaching staff that he can make an impact in that phase of the game.

"I do punt return, kickoff return and kickoff, but I just wasn't as high on the depth chart as some of the other guys," Keiser said. "I can bring something to the table in those three phases, and I'm working on being dependable so they feel they can use me anywhere.

"This week, I don't know whether I'm playing or not, but I'm just going out there and practicing and preparing like I'm going to be out there Sunday."

Senior writer Bryan Strickland contributed to this report.

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