Offensive trio returns from concussions

CHARLOTTE – Panthers quarterback Jimmy Clausen returned to practice Wednesday for the first time since suffering a concussion, saying he felt pretty good.

Clausen is feeling even better about getting back to the process of straightening out the lengthy learning curve that all rookie quarterbacks must tackle.

"Early on when I got in there, I don't think I was ready to go per se. I just got thrown into the fire and tried to do the best that I could," Clausen said. "Now I think everything is slowing down for me. The first few games, people were flying around all over the place, but things are slowing down, and hopefully they do for the rest of the season."

Clausen struggled in three starts earlier in the season but showed improvement when he returned to the lineup Nov. 14 at Tampa Bay – only to sustain a concussion that sidelined him last week.

Recent acquisition Brian St. Pierre replaced Clausen last week against the Baltimore Ravens, but head coach John Fox said Wednesday that Clausen would start Sunday at the Cleveland Browns if his health allows.

"It's an ongoing evaluation, but it was good to see that he was out there practicing," Fox said. "I thought he zipped the ball around pretty good."

Clausen wasn't the only skill player recovering from a concussion that returned to practice Wednesday. Running back Jonathan Stewart returned to practice for the first time since taking a hard hit Nov. 7 versus New Orleans, and wide receiver Brandon LaFell was back after getting injured against the Buccaneers.

It's been a tedious recovery for Stewart since leaving the Saints game in the first quarter. Stewart said when he first tried to return to vigorous activities, he suffered from headaches and "cloudiness," but that finally cleared up late last week.

In the absence of Stewart and running mate DeAngelo Williams – on injured reserve with a foot injury -- running back Mike Goodson has produced the team's first two 100-yard rushing games of the season.

"I'm happy to see Stew back out there," Goodson said. "Those guys kind of showed me the way, so going out there without them was kind of weird."

The offense faced a bizarre situation with Clausen out last week. St. Pierre had been with the team for just over a week and had been out of football for nearly a year before getting the start.

"I thought Brian did an outstanding job coming in from the street as they say and starting 10 days later," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "That's as tough as it gets, and he did a really nice job with that role.

"The nice thing about Jimmy is that he's been here all year, and he understands the cadence and the audibles and the reads a little bit better than Brian did."

St. Pierre and rookie quarterback Tony Pike both were limited in practice Wednesday with arm injuries, with St. Pierre holding out hope but expressing doubt that he'd be healthy by Sunday.

The only quarterback besides Clausen to fully participate in practice Wednesday was Keith Null, who was signed to the practice squad Tuesday.

"Jimmy has done a nice job all year," Gross said. "Being a rookie is tough; being a rookie on this team is tough because there's not a lot of veterans around him. But I'll be glad if he's in there. He's handled himself well all year."

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