SPARTANBURG, S.C. – It was one small step for Jonathan Stewart, but one giant leap for the Panthers' hopes of having him available for the regular season.
"I think it was a good step," Stewart said after stepping onto the practice field for the first time at training camp Saturday morning. "It was a relief, just being out there and doing what I'm supposed to be doing.
"It was good to be able to be around the guys."
Stewart had sat out all of camp, recovering from offseason surgery that cleaned up his left Achilles and heel, injuries caused by overcompensating for a right toe injury. Stewart took part in individual drills Saturday but not team activities.
"It's just baby steps," he said. "I didn't know that I was going to be coming out here today. I woke up today and talked to Ryan (Vermillion) the trainer, and we just kind of worked something out.
"I'm still feeling pain, but we're making gradual steps, moving up rather than down. Eventually that will go away, but when that will be, we really can't tell."
Stewart also doesn't yet know when he'll fully take part in practice or when he'll return to game action, but he's now hopeful that it will be sooner rather than later.
"I would love to get in a preseason game, if that's something smart to do with my foot, just to get my feet wet before I play a regular season game," Stewart said. "The more I progress, the more I'll do.
"I've just got to make sure I do it the right way."
NAMING RIGHTS: Stewart's return will allow him and fellow back DeAngelo Williams to be "Double Trouble" yet again – the nickname the running mates claim.
Count center Ryan Kalil among the jealous.
"I think it would be sweet if I had a center who would come in, and we were the snapping duo," Kalil said. "I haven't thought of a sweet nickname yet, but we would have one. It would be awesome.
"Can you imagine?"
Well, Ryan, here are a few suggestions for you and your imaginary center friend:
--The Snapping Turtles
--Centers of Attention
--Starsky and Hutt
GROSS MISCONDUCT: Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross got flagged for three penalties in the opening moments of Thursday night's preseason opener at Baltimore.
Rather than being mad, Gross was glad to be in such close proximity to flying flags.
"I've been looking forward to getting back for eight months," said Gross, who hadn't played since breaking his leg midway through the 2009 season. "I told my wife that I had fun because she was expecting me to be down in the dumps like I usually am when things don't go well.
"I was maybe a little too excited and didn't have the greatest technique. As an offensive lineman, you've got to be able to play calm and cool. It isn't anything major; it was just a rough string of events. Really it's not a big deal in my opinion."
VAUGHAN'S INNER DRIVE: Running back Josh Vaughan, who led the Panthers with 48 rushing yards on 11 carries Thursday, is working hard to avoid the fate that befell his football fortunes in 2009.
Still, while spending nearly all of what was supposed to be his rookie season out of the NFL, Vaughan gained a little perspective on what good fortune is all about.
"I worked at a company where we drove patients who weren't able to get to their doctors' appointments," Vaughan said. "You don't realize how fortunate you are until you see the struggles that other people go through."
Vaughan also tutored middle school students in his hometown of Richmond while waiting for a team to call. The University of Richmond standout was cut as a rookie by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in training camp and spent the first week and the final two weeks of the season on the Jacksonville Jaguars' practice squad.
"It was miserable for a while, but I just kept my faith strong and continued to work hard and never lost hope," Vaughan said. "You can't take this game for granted because it can be over in the drop of a hat."
ROSTER MOVE: The Panthers signed linebacker Nic Harris on Saturday and waived/injured center Steve Justice with a back injury.
Harris had been waived Aug. 2 by the Buffalo Bills after failing his physical. The second-year pro out of Oklahoma injured his knee late last season.
The Panthers needed depth at linebacker with Jamar Williams (shoulder), Quinton Culberson (thigh) and Jordan Senn (shoulder) currently out of action.
TICKETS DISAPPEARING: Less than 1,500 tickets remain for the Panthers' preseason home opener Saturday night against the New York Jets, and the regular season home opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sept. 19 is down to less than 2,500 tickets.
Carolina's home date on Nov. 7 with the reigning Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints has sold out. The Oct. 10 visit by the Chicago Bears previously sold out.
Tickets can be purchased via Ticketmaster Charge-By-Phone at 1-800-745-3000; at www.ticketmaster.com; and at Ticketmaster Ticket Centers throughout the Carolinas. For a list of ticket centers, call the Charge-By-Phone number.