Jon Beason had not participated in practice this week before Friday, but Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the starting middle linebacker kept his head in the game all week long.
Nursing both knee and shoulder injuries, Beason had limited participation at Friday’s practice, and he is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game versus Atlanta.
“The biggest disappointment for him was in the Giants game not playing as well as he’s capable and trying to play with a bad shoulder and bad knee,” said Rivera, who added that Beason was spot-on in his reps Friday. “And at some point we as coaches got to pay more attention and probably relieve him or give him a break just to protect him from himself. He’s a warrior.
“He’ll tell you he’s fine and (still be) dragging his leg and shoulder. Look at the tape, you say, ‘Wow, how did he do it?’ But that’s him, he wants to play so bad.”
Along with Beason, linebacker Thomas Davis (calf) and defensive end Greg Hardy (thumb) are also questionable for Sunday.
Davis, a Georgia alumnus, said earlier in the week there was no way he would miss playing the Falcons in a homecoming game.
Hardy’s right hand is already in a cast, and he will likely have it wrapped further before the game to protect his broken thumb, should he play Sunday.
“We’re planning on playing him. We’ll see how he is (Saturday),” Rivera said. “And if we do play him, is he functional with that thumb? That’s something we really have to be cognizant of as we go through this thing. The same thing with Jon. We can’t have a repeat and have him struggle through as he did against the Giants.”
Jonathan Stewart is listed as probable to see the field for the first time since Sept. 16. The fifth-year back has been battling a toe injury that kept him out of the Giants game, but he was in full pads Friday.
Guard Mike Pollak is out for a third-straight game with a shoulder injury. Defensive end Antawn Applewhite is doubtful with a knee injury and did not participate in practice Friday, but he still traveled with the team to Atlanta.
Neblett nears return: Defensive tackle Andre Neblett is due back to rejoin the Panthers next week following a four-game suspension.
But Rivera isn’t sure what he will do with him just yet.
Neblett tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance in the offseason and was suspended for the first four games of the season. In the preseason, Neblett suffered from hypertension and high blood pressure and was sidelined from practice.
Rivera said those issues are still lingering, and the Panthers will use the two-week grace period granted by the league to decide where Neblett fits in with the defensive line.
“We’re excited about having him back, but in bringing in (defensive tackle) Dwan Edwards, what we’ve started to develop as far as our defensive end play, we’ll see,” Rivera said. “Dwan has played well for us with 31/2 sacks. We’re getting the inside push. If we can continue to work and get more improvement from our ends and get those numbers, we can be pretty well-rounded.”
Neblett played in 12 games and started four for the Panthers last year. He will not count against the Panthers’ 53-man roster until after Week 6.
“I think Andre comes in and couple him with Sione (Fua) and Frank Kearse and Ron Edwards, we’ve got some decisions to make on who plays where and how,” Rivera said.