SPARTANBURG, S.C. – The Panthers returned to the practice field Wednesday minus their most recent first-round draft pick, but head coach Ron Rivera didn't sound overly concerned about linebacker Shaq Thompson or another recent first-round pick.
Thompson sat out practice to rest the hamstring that bothered him during offseason training activities, while 2013 first-round selection Star Lotulelei missed the first of what is likely to be several practices since the defensive tackle was diagnosed with a stress reaction in his right foot.
Rivera didn't rule out the possibility that Lotulelei could return in time for the Miami Dolphins' visit to training camp August 19-20. He may be the least likely to be back by then, but Rivera feels good about everyone else being back by then or well before.
"I'm hoping to get everybody back for Miami game (on August 22)," Rivera said. "It will be a good week for us, getting to practice with them a couple of times.
"I'm hoping we'll get everybody back on field for that because it's a good opportunity to work on what we're really trying to do in the regular season."
Specifically in the case of Lotulelei, Rivera said he would next be evaluated when the team returns to Charlotte for Fan Fest on Friday.
"My understanding is that it's going to be a couple of weeks," Rivera said. "There was a hot spot there and a little bit of concern, so the doctors felt like the best thing to do was start resting it and not give it an opportunity to become worse.
"An opportunity to get him back on the football field is what we're looking for, but we're not going do it hastily. He's very valuable and important to what we do on the defensive side."
Rivera said cornerback Bene Benwikere, who is yet to practice because of a hamstring injury, could be back next week, and defensive tackle Kawann Short – yet to practice with a back injury – could be back even sooner. Same goes for tight end Ed Dickson, who is working through a groin injury and got in some work Wednesday before backing off.
Rivera said he liked his team's tempo in its return from a day off, especially early in practice, and he liked what the defense did in some red zone situations late in practice.
"On the defensive side, we're far ahead," Rivera said. "(Defensive coordinator) Sean (McDermott) just picked up where right where they left off at OTAs and minicamp, whereas on offense we kept it pretty basic and didn't gameplan anything (for the red zone)."