- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 4, 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Panthers coach Ron Rivera says he’s optimistic running back Jonathan Stewart will play Sunday in the season opener at Tampa Bay.

Stewart sprained his right ankle in the team’s third preseason game Aug, 26 and hasn’t practice since.

Although he was held out of practice, Rivera says Stewart “moved around very nicely” during a private workout Monday. Rivera says that’s a “very encouraging sign” and he’s hopeful Stewart will return to practice Wednesday when the team continues this week’s game preparation in Bradenton, Fla.

The Panthers were scheduled to fly out of Charlotte Tuesday to avoid scheduling conflicts with the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

Wide receiver Steve Smith (foot infection) and Jon Beason (hamstring) both participated in practice.

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