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Panthers travel party includes injured Stewart


CHARLOTTE - The Carolina Panthers didn't have Jonathan Stewart on the practice field Tuesday due to his injured ankle, but the running back will fly to Tampa with the team in the hopes of playing Week 1.

"It's coming along very well," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He moved around an awful lot yesterday, so he was a little bit sore today - a little bit more than we anticipated. He's moving around nicely. We are very encouraged."

The Panthers' depth at running back gives the coaching staff an opportunity to exercise caution with Stewart as he recovers.

"If one guy is nicked, we can lean on the others," Rivera said. "We feel pretty comfortable with that."

BYERS IMPRESSES: Center Jeff Byers also was absent from practice Tuesday due to an MCL sprain suffered in the final preseason game last Thursday at the Pittsburgh Steelers.

According to Rivera, the injury occurred in the third quarter, but Byers refused to exit the action.

"He's just a tough young man, and that speaks well for who he is and the toughness we want to have on this football team," Rivera said. "It was real impressive. He wouldn't come out."

The coaches were able to keep Byers off the practice field, but Rivera expects the lineman to make a quick return.

"We made him take the last couple days off. He should be out on the field tomorrow," Rivera said.

SOUTHBOUND: With the Democratic National Convention taking center stage at Bank of America Stadium, the Panthers left town Tuesday, bound for IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., to continue preparations for the opener.

It will be a different set-up, but tight end Greg Olsen said the team isn't taking a different approach.

"Nothing changes," Olsen said. "We'll change venues, but we still have a job to do Sunday, and we can't let anything get in the way of that."

The Panthers last won their season opener in 2008, which happens to be the last time they made the playoffs. Preseason talk inside and outside the locker room has centered on the Panthers making a run at the playoffs this season, and Olsen knows a strong start is essential.

"The first game of the season is huge," he said. "Our expectations within this team are really what matters, and they're pretty high. Obviously, the excitement around the city and the excitement around the league about our team is fun and it's encouraging, but it doesn't really do a whole lot.

"You have to go out and play, because the last thing you want to do is fail to reach those expectations. There's nothing more disappointing than that. We have to go out and match or exceed what people expect of us, but more important what we expect."

Staff writer Max Henson and senior writer Bryan Strickland contributed to this report.

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