SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Upon arriving Thursday for training camp, linebacker Jon Beason stressed how crucial it would be for the Panthers to get off to a fast start this season, a process he said must gain momentum from the very beginning of camp.
But for Beason and running back Jonathan Stewart, both still rehabbing injuries that cut short their 2012 seasons, their personal starting lines might be closer to Week 1 of the regular season than to Day One of training camp.
While Beason said it's "quite possible" that he won't fully participate in a practice until after training camp, Stewart has been placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, head coach Ron Rivera confirmed Thursday afternoon. Rivera also said that linebacker Thomas Davis, who is dealing with a strained hamstring, will be eased into things along with Beason.
"The other 87 guys will be full-go," Rivera said, adding that everyone who took a conditioning test Thursday passed it in advance of the first practice of training camp Friday. "When Jonathan is ready to go we'll get him back on the football field. His rehab has been going very well.
"Jon Beason will work gradually into things. We'll work him into things as he goes. Thomas Davis has a little bit of a strain on his hamstring. Those three are the ones we'll be watching."
A right ankle injury suffered last preseason sidelined Stewart for two of the first three games last year, then he missed the final five games with a left ankle injury. During Stewart's exit physical following the season, it was decided that he would undergo surgery on both ankles: arthroscopic surgery on the right ankle and a relatively new "tightrope" procedure on the left ankle where a strand and buttons are used rather than a screw.
"Right now I'm just working hard with the trainers and brainpower behind them - the doctors – just trying to do everything I can to get there as soon as possible," said Stewart, who could be removed from the PUP list at any time and begin taking part in practice. "It's been a lot of strengthening, getting stability back."
Like Beason, Stewart said his goal is to be ready for Week 1, regardless of what the preseason might hold for him.
"I just want to play," Stewart said.
Beason echoes that sentiment. He missed the final 12 games of the 2012 season with ankle and shoulder injuries and underwent microfracture surgery on his knee before the end of last season and shoulder surgery shortly after the season.
"What we do down here is a big stepping stone, but for veteran guys like myself, it's about what happens when we strap it up against the Seahawks in Week 1," Beason said. "I feel pretty good. I'm not great right now – I can admit that – but we still have time. I'm optimistic. I've done everything I can do at this point, and now it's a waiting game."
Beason was able to be much more involved in the Panthers' offseason training program than Stewart, but those practices didn't allow live contact. Things will amp up quickly at training camp, so Beason likely will take it slow.
"We've just got to be smart about it. This will be the first time really meeting resistance as far as making tackles and taking on blocks as opposed to running around in gym shorts and looking good in minicamp," Beason said. "We'll see what happens, but the staff and everybody is working together toward the goal of getting me on the field."
Beason, who confirmed that he became the latest Panther to restructure his contract Wednesday, has played in just five games over the last two seasons after suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in the 2011 opener. Prior to that injury, the three-time Pro Bowler hadn't missed a single game in his first four years.
He intends to return to that form but understands that it will be a protracted process in his first season following microfracture surgery.
"From what I've been told, it's something you have to manage throughout the season," Beason said. "I'm going to have good days and bad days, but what you do is get it calmed down and get it feeling good throughout the week. By Sunday, you feel pretty good, and you go out there and wear on it and bang on it, and then you start back over Monday.
"You go through that early in the process, and it gradually gets to the point where it's not an issue anymore."