Jonathan Stewart returns to Panthers practice

AP

The Panthers offense wasn’t able to establish a rushing attack in the season opener against the Buccaneers.

The absence of running back Jonathan Stewart may have played a role in that, which makes it good news for the team that Stewart was able to practice on Wednesday. Stewart has been sidelined for the last little while with an injured ankle, but he appears to be on the road back to the lineup.

“Full participation, took his normal reps,” head coach Ron Rivera said, via the team’s website. “He looked good. He started a little slow in terms of cutting; he was a little apprehensive I think. As practice went on (the ankle) loosened up more and more. I expect him to be out there (tomorrow).”

Stewart declared himself “optimistic” about his chances of playing against the Saints this weekend. The Panthers managed just 10 rushing yards in their 16-10 loss to the Buccaneers and DeAngelo Williams had -1 yards on six carries. The team was forced to abandon the run after falling behind Tampa, but part of the reason they fell behind was that they couldn’t run the ball as well as they did in 2011.

Getting Stewart back should help them do a better job of rediscovering the identity that worked for them last year. If it doesn’t, they could be facing an 0-2 start that puts an end to a lot of the good feelings the Panthers generated heading into the season.