- Associated Press - Monday, September 1, 2014

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Cam Newton is back in pads - dramatically oversized pads.

The Panthers two-time Pro Bowl quarterback returned to practice Monday wearing a long, bulky flak jacket designed to provide added protection for his healing fractured ribs.

Newton smiled and even stopped to pose for a picture before practice with his newly enhanced armor. He went through drills as normal with the first team offense and didn’t appear to have any problems throwing the ball during the 20 minutes practice was open to the media.

Coach Ron Rivera reiterated that he expects Newton to play in the season opener Sunday at Tampa Bay.

It was the Newton’s first practice since Aug. 22 when Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins stepped on his ribs during a preseason game.

Rivera said Newton worked out Saturday and the medical staff cleared him to practice Monday.

“He came out and pushed himself through another workout and did some good things and threw the ball well,” Rivera said. “I’m very pleased with that.”

The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton took some good-natured ribbing from teammates as he walked out to the practice field with his oversized pads hanging below his red No. 1 practice jersey.

“I told him in the event of a water landing he could be used as a flotation device,” center Ryan Kalil said with a grin. “He didn’t think that was very funny.”

Rivera said the equipment staff and trainers are still working on the best - and most comfortable- form of protection for Newton’s ribs.

That is still a work in progress.

“He’s wearing it to get used to it,” Rivera said. “They’re trying to find one that works best. He’s tried several on and we’ll see.”

Newton didn’t speak to reporters after practice.

Along with suffering a hairline fracture in his ribs, Newton is also dealing with pain in his ankle from offseason surgery.

“He’s sore, but he’s not like he was when it first happened,” Rivera said.

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