SPARTANBURG — Help is on the way for the Carolina Panthers’ offense.
Coach Ron Rivera said quarterback Cam Newton and running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart will play in the team’s second preseason game Aug. 17 against Kansas City. All three practiced Sunday after missing Carolina’s preseason opener against Buffalo.
“I’m excited about getting these guys back on the football field,” Rivera said.
That should help an offense that managed just 75 total yards in the first half of Carolina’s 20-18 loss to the Bills.
Rivera said he expects the starters to play more than a typical second preseason game – probably about 40 plays.
Newton has been practicing since the start of training camp, but Sunday marked the first time the team allowed him to run the zone read and carry the football. Newton has run for 2,032 yards and 28 touchdowns in three seasons for the Panthers, more than any QB in the league during that span.
It was an odd day to let Newton starting running considering the steady rain and soggy field conditions.
Rivera said he had some trepidation about turning Newton loose in those conditions, but added “it is part of the elements. We are going to play 14 games outdoors and we don’t practice indoors for the most part.”
Rivera said Newton is on track in his rehabilitation from ankle surgery in March and will be allowed to run against the Chiefs.
“We’re getting to the point where the workload will increase now and we will start to do things differently now,” Rivera said.
Stewart practiced for the first time Sunday after missing the first two weeks with a strained hamstring.
The former first-round draft pick has missed 17 games the past two seasons with foot and ankle injuries. Stewart, 27, has been limited to 516 yards rushing the past two seasons and one touchdown after running for 3,500 yards and 26 TDs during his first four seasons in the NFL.
Stewart said earlier in camp his ankles felt better than they have in a long time.
“I love the fact that I can get up in the morning and walk without that much soreness in my ankles,” Stewart said July 26. “... Going into this year I’m going to be the freshest that I’ve been in two years.”
He looked solid running and cutting on Sunday, taking a swing pass along the right sideline and quickly heading up the field without any hesitation.
Rivera said the 31-year-old Williams is not injured and was held out of preseason opener because he was concerned about his workload last week in practice.
“We didn’t want to give him any more work,” Rivera said.
Carolina’s offense could use a spark.
Derek Anderson led an impressive 10-play, 82-yard touchdown drive that culminated with a 29-yard strike to rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, but Carolina’s other seven drives in the first three quarters netted just four first downs and 30 net yards.
Rivera said despite the offense’s struggles in the first half, the team’s revamped offensive line played pretty well.
The Panthers have moved Byron Bell from right to left tackle, and have three new starters this season in left guard Amini Silatolu, right guard Trai Turner and right tackle Nate Chandler, who played some at guard last season.
“There were a lot of good thing but we didn’t run block as well as I would have liked us to,” Rivera said. “One of things we wanted to do was run the ball effectively and give us a chance to win the game by running it. So that was a little disappointing. But I thought we did a nice job in pass protection.”
NOTE: Offensive tackle Nate Chandler was held out of practice with a sore knee. Rivera says he hasn’t decided if Byron Bell or Chandler will start the season at left tackle. ... Defensive end Kony Ealy, the team’s second round pick, had his left foot in a boot after suffering a mild ankle sprain. ... Defensive end Charles Johnson remains out with a strained hamstring.