Panthers nearing full strength

CHARLOTTE – The Panthers are nearing full strength just in time for the start of the regular season.

Quarterback Cam Newton practiced a day after an intensive workout with head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion and showed some encouraging signs to head coach Ron Rivera.

"He looked good, threw a few more passes than we expected. We felt pretty good about it," Rivera said. "He had a big workout yesterday. He spent some time with Ryan running on the underwater treadmill. He did some stuff in the weight room and finished with conditioning. Today, he came out and pushed himself through another workout. He threw the ball well."

Newton wore a larger flak jacket at practice to give his ribs extra protection, and he's in the process of settling on one that fits comfortably.

"He's sore, but it's not like it was when it first happened," said Rivera, who still expects Newton to play Week 1. "He moved around a lot better. I'm excited about it."

Elsewhere, defensive ends Charles Johnson (hamstring) and Greg Hardy (shoulder) returned to practice, and both players took all of their practice reps.

"(Charles) probably could have played against Pittsburgh, but we didn't want to push him out there. He's ready to roll," Rivera said. "Greg is fine. There doesn't seem to be an issue."

Said Johnson: "I feel pretty confident (I'll play Sunday). I'm just taking it day by day and I should be good."

Rookie guard Trai Turner, who missed the last two preseason games with a groin injury, returned to practice as well. Turner is expected to start Week 1 at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the Panthers are also preparing Fernando Velasco to take some occasional snaps at right guard.

"Trai is coming off the groin. We also know that it is going to be hot and he hasn't had the chance to truly condition like a lot of the other guys," Rivera said. "He's going to have to be spelled on occasion."

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