CHARLOTTE – Running back DeAngelo Williams and wide receivers Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery are questionable with hamstring injuries for Sunday night's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Williams and Avant were limited participants at practice Friday. Cotchery did not practice.
"Both Jason and DeAngelo took reps with the team and actually looked pretty good," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Hopefully, there is no overwhelming soreness and they'll be good to go for Sunday."
Cotchery is experiencing a higher level of soreness, and he ran in the pool during practice.
"We'll see on Sunday and, hopefully, he passes the muster," Rivera said.
Fullback Mike Tolbert (chest) had full participation and is probable, giving Rivera reason to feel better about the overall health of his running backs.
"It's very good. The formula we talk about is being able to run the ball, control the clock and then take the pressure off the quarterback," Rivera said. "That's what running the ball does for you.
"It's great to have Jonathan Stewart back. It's good to have Tolbert rolling and hopefully, DeAngelo back out there."
While Rivera is optimistic about the availability of Tolbert and Williams and the 10 players listed on the injury report as probable, the outlook is not as good for another running back. Fozzy Whittaker, who rushed for a game-high 91 yards in the preseason finale against Pittsburgh, is doubtful with a quad injury suffered on punt coverage in the fourth quarter last week versus Detroit.
COLLECTIVE EFFORT UP FRONT: Rivera was again asked about his confidence level in the front four's ability to pressure the passer without defensive end Greg Hardy.
He reiterated that he's confident in the players at his disposal and said the interior pressure will ensure Carolina remains disruptive.
"We've got guys that play different positions, so they fit very nicely," Rivera said. "The inside pressure really helps. When we first got here, that was one of the things that was missing – that inside presence. We didn't have that inside push. Our guys would win on the outside, but the quarterback would step up, hitch and throw the ball.
"But now with (Kawann Short, Star Lotulelei, Colin Cole and Dwan Edwards) getting the push inside, it doesn't allow for that. And what we're doing in the back seven has helped – being physical and jamming. If you are disruptive and you throw the timing off, the quarterback has to hold the ball a little longer and that helps your pass rush."
Rivera expects teams to devote double teams to defensive end Charles Johnson, and that will provide others with an opportunity to win one-on-one battles.
"If Charles is getting doubles, then the other guys have to step up," Rivera said.