SPARTANBURG, S.C. - Sunday's practice officially counted as running back Jonathan Stewart's first action of training camp.
Monday, though, was when Stewart truly saw his first action.
One day after returning from a hamstring injury, Stewart took the next step – a big step – by participating in his first padded practice in more than eight months.
"It's the first time since I got hurt last season that I've been in pads. It went well," Stewart said. "My running motion coming out of the gate, making cuts and all that stuff – it's as fluid as I've been in a while."
Stewart, who suffered a knee injury in Week 14 last season that kept him out through the playoffs despite his best efforts, actually looked like his old self during organized team activities in May and June. But while running in the days leading up to training camp, Stewart suffered a hamstring injury.
He moved well in his debut Sunday, and in Monday's encore he absorbed some hits, a necessity before returning to game action.
"You definitely have to get used to being hit," Stewart said. "It's just like with a fight. You're not going to win your first fight unless you're lucky and the guy can't fight.
"Today was a good first step for me, putting on pads and being out there going against the ones and twos."
Stewart can provide a one-two punch along with fellow running back DeAngelo Williams, and the potential threat to opposing defenses only grows with fullback Mike Tolbert added to the mix. Now that they're all on the practice field together, they can work on making each other better and thus the Panthers better.
"We are competitors by nature," Stewart said. "Whenever DeAngelo makes a big run, it's, 'Let me make a big run.' Or if Tolbert runs somebody over, it's, 'Let me run somebody over.'
"Everyone on our team is a great competitor, and we do a good job of not letting that get in the way of what our bond is on and off the field."
The last time Stewart and Williams both played 16 games was 2011, the year before Tolbert joined the team. That year, they combined for 1,597 rushing yards – even with quarterback Cam Newton rushing for 706 yards – and Stewart set a team record for receptions by a running back with 47.
At the end of the 2011 season, Stewart had missed just two of 64 career games, but he missed seven in 2012 with an ankle injury. Last season, he played in just six games, spending the first seven on the physically unable to perform list following offseason surgery on both ankles.
Stewart believes he can get back to the production he previously enjoyed, but he's not focused on any long-term goals at this early juncture.
"I don't see why not," Stewart said. "But my number-one goal is to play in our preseason game this week. My thing is to take one step at a time – one day at a time, one week at a time, one game at a time – and not really get ahead of myself. Just live in that moment."