CHARLOTTE – Ten players did not participate in Wednesday's practice due to injury. Fortunately for Ron Rivera and the Panthers, that number shrunk to three on Thursday.
"Am I relieved about it? Yes, because the did not participate (list) is a lot shorter," Rivera said. "Yesterday was tough."
It was tough for a number of reasons, but Rivera said his team's practice on Thursday was ideal.
"It felt good. I loved the energy and tempo of practice today," Rivera said. "I thought the guys were focusing in on Pittsburgh. I thought they practiced well yesterday, considering the circumstances. For the most part, they were aware of what was happening.
"Today's practice was what you are really looking for, and for me personally, it was a deep breath."
Those who returned to practice included offensive tackles Byron Bell (toe) and Nate Chandler (toe), wide receivers Kelvin Benjamin (knee) and Philly Brown (ankle) and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (back).
Linebacker Thomas Davis (hip), fullback Mike Tolbert (chest) and offensive tackle Garry Williams (thigh) also returned, but were limited.
The only players to miss practice both Wednesday and Thursday were running backs DeAngelo Williams (thigh) and Fozzy Whittaker (thigh). Wide receiver Jason Avant (thigh), who was limited Wednesday, did not participate on Thursday.
"A little concerned about Fozzy but not as concerned about DeAngelo," Rivera said. "He ran a lot on the side and did a lot of work. Hopefully, he'll take some team reps tomorrow. It's not like he hasn't been working. We are being cautious with him."
The Panthers are also being cautious with Tolbert, who was limited on Thursday. Tolbert suffered a chest injury against the Lions when defensive tackle Nick Fairley delivered a thunderous hit near the goal line. Tolbert said it was the hardest he'd ever been hit.
"When a D-lineman hits you square, it is going to hurt. He landed on me, and he landed on me hard," Tolbert said. "I'm used to giving out the blows, not getting them."
Tolbert said he's hopeful he'll be able to play against the Steelers on Sunday. In the event Carolina needs to add a running back from the practice squad, Rivera said undrafted rookie Darrin Reaves is first in line.
As for filling the open spot on the active roster, Rivera said the Panthers are in no particular hurry.
"Remember, we still have to have inactives, so if you don't have 53 you don't have to worry about seven inactives," Rivera explained. "There is no real hurry. We can just keep an eye on our guys and see what's happening."