RB Williams returns to practice

CHARLOTTE – Two-thirds of the Panthers' triple threat at running back isn't likely to play when Carolina visits the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, but at least the other third is back in the mix.

Starting running back DeAngelo Williams, who missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, returned to full participation in practice Wednesday for the first time in two weeks.

"It's encouraging to have him back on the field," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Anytime you get a guy back off the injury list, it's awesome.

"DeAngelo looked good today. Darrin Reaves looked good today. We'll go from there."

Reaves, an undrafted rookie, was signed off the Panthers' practice squad Saturday and played Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers with Williams and fellow running back Fozzy Whittaker inactive. The decision to add Reaves was made before Williams' running mates – fullback Mike Tolbert and running back Jonathan Stewart – suffered injuries that are likely to sideline them this week.

Tolbert is out for sure, having been placed on injured reserve/designated for return after suffering a hairline fracture in his left knee against Pittsburgh. Stewart, who sprained his right knee against the Steelers, will be evaluated again Friday.

Rivera is hopeful that Williams will be able to handle a full workload against the Ravens.

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"We're going to build up to that," Rivera said. "Last week he practiced on Friday and was still kind of iffy. Today he took every snap he was supposed to. We had 42 total snaps, and I bet he took 30 of them.

"We'll see how he is as we go through it. Hopefully it will feel pretty good tomorrow with no residual, and then he'll roll again and probably take a few more snaps each day."

As with Stewart, Rivera reiterated that linebacker Thomas Davis would be re-evaluated Friday, admitting that's "usually not a good sign" when it comes to availability for the next game. Another potential sign is the team's decision to replace Tolbert on the 53-man roster with a linebacker, but Rivera said signing D.J. Smith wasn't all about the hip injury that Davis is dealing with.

"We like D.J. He was one of the last guys we cut," Rivera said of Smith, who attended training camp with the Panthers. "He's a guy that we had stayed in communication with to see how he was doing.

"We had a position open, and that's what we decided to do."

Rivera indicated that Chase Blackburn and A.J. Klein would start along with Luke Kuechly if Davis can't play.

Smith was on Carolina's practice squad before being terminated when the team signed wide receiver Stephen Hill to the unit September 3. The Charlotte native and former Appalachian State standout had a workout with the New England Patriots last week, but the veteran of 23 NFL games is looking forward to the possibility of making his Panthers debut.

"I grew up 15, 20 minutes from here. Everybody has that dream to play in the NFL, but for it to be for your hometown, it's a real big deal," Smith said. "I was out for the past three weeks, but I took it as a learning experience.

"I humbled myself and grinded it out. I just took it as a sign that there was still work to be done, that I had to keep working."

In addition to welcoming Smith back, the Panthers welcomed Jerricho Cotchery back to practice after the wide receiver missed last game with a hamstring injury. Offensive tackle Garry Williams (back), safety Roman Harper (knee) and cornerback Charles Godfrey (ankle) didn't practice Wednesday.

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