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Panthers welcome back Tillman, McClain

CHARLOTTE – The last time cornerback Robert McClain put on a Panthers uniform, head coach Ron Rivera was still getting ready for his regular season debut and safety Roman Harper was still playing for the New Orleans Saints.

"I need to get his name down first: Robert McClain, right?" Harper said. "I've just met him. He's a cool dude, quiet guy. Seems very quick and agile.

"I'm expecting some nice things from him. I'm sure Mr. (Dave) Gettleman and Coach Rivera wouldn't bring guys in that aren't going to come in and contribute in a positive way. I have all the confidence that if he's out there beside me, I can trust him."

Whether McClain, signed Tuesday to replace Bene Benwikere on the roster, will be out there for the first play Sunday against the New York Giants is up in the air. There's renewed hope that cornerback Charles Tillman can come back from a knee injury that's forced him to miss the last four games.

Tillman fully participated in practice Wednesday.

"He had a good day and did everything in the live drills, showing all the movements you need to have in your corner," Rivera said. "He was a little rusty – the conditioning wasn't where it needed to be – but he moved around good.

"He looked pretty good. The biggest test will be tomorrow to make sure everything is fine, and then we'll go from there."

The other option to start at outside corner opposite Josh Norman is Teddy Williams, a special teams stalwart this season who played 17 defensive snaps last Sunday after totaling 31 prior to Benwikere's season-ending leg injury.

"You just always prepare as if you're going to start because you never know when somebody is going to go down," Williams said. "You've got to keep moving. It's next man up."

While Rivera said there's hope that Tillman can play Sunday, he said McClain will "get a few snaps in the game."

"We'll certainly find an opportunity to rotate Robert in and get his feet wet, get him going," Rivera said. "He's one of the guys we brought in when we decided to go with Cortland (Finnegan) because he had more nickel experience. Now we're in a situation where we needed an outside guy, and Robert fit the bill."

The Panthers selected McClain in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL Draft out of Connecticut. He played in all 16 games as a rookie, primarily on special teams, though he did start two games on defense late in the season.

"That was a long time ago. It's hard to remember a lot," McClain said. "There are a lot of familiar faces still on the team. But NFL teams change – that's a part of the game."

The next season – Rivera's first – McClain didn't make the 53-man roster and spent most of 2011 out of the league. The Falcons signed him after the season, and he put together three productive seasons. Atlanta didn't re-sign him this past offseason, however, and McClain hadn't been on a roster since the Patriots released him in the final roster cutdown in September.

"I've worked out for about 10 different teams," McClain said. "I've just been conditioning, keeping my weight down to where it needs to be to play. I just stayed in shape in case a team picked me up.

"I've been preparing for this moment."

View photos from the Panthers' week of practice leading up to their game against the Giants.

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