Panthers RB Kenjon Barner hopeful he’ll make NFL debut Sunday; Jonathan Stewart progressing

jjones@charlotteobserver.comSeptember 30, 2013 

If all goes to plan, DeAngelo Williams and the Panthers will be getting some help in the running game on Sunday at Arizona.

Rookie running back Kenjon Barner is targeting Sunday as his NFL regular-season debut after spraining his foot in the preseason. Barner, a sixth-round draft pick out of Oregon, fully participated in Monday’s practice after being gradually worked back into the fold last week.

“He had a good day of work today and we’ll see how he is tomorrow,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “And that’s the thing about these foot injuries and knee injuries is, it’s always the day after. He may look good but he may come in and it swell up, it may ache or throb or something and then we have to slow it down. As long as he comes in tomorrow and feels good, then we’ll push him a little more come Wednesday.”

When asked if he’d be ready to play Sunday, Barner said “hopefully so.” His addition would come two weeks before Jonathan Stewart is eligible to return from the physically unable to perform list. Monday, Stewart “opened up” while running on the sideline during practice. It was the most and hardest he has run during the rehab process in practice sessions open to the media.

Stewart is recovering from offseason ankle surgery. Rivera said seeing Stewart run was a good sign, but he didn’t want to make too much of it with Stewart unavailable until at least the Week 7 St. Louis game.

“I don’t want to get ahead of myself,” Rivera said. “I’m on the coaching side, we get excited about things. (Trainer) Ryan Vermillion and his people, they’ve got to be realistic about it. We have to go by what they’re telling us so we’ll see. It really was nice to see him open it up.”

Williams has 291 yards on 62 carries through three games. His 62 carries make up 59.6 percent of all Carolina rushes and 72.9 percent of all running back rushes.

Those numbers are likely to decrease when Barner and Stewart return. Rivera has referred to Barner as a scat back, an occasional back who will be asked to do it all: run, catch and pass protect.

Stewart, last year’s starting running back before going down with injury, would also take carries away from Williams, who in Week 3 against the Giants could have used a breather toward the end, Rivera said.

“Because of the situation we had to keep him out there a little bit longer than I think I would have liked,” Rivera said. “I think at that point you can spell him. There are certain situations you can spell him.

“This is not a sprint, this is a marathon and we know that. Everything everyone is eyeing to is the postseason come January.”

Dwan mending: Despite more than a week off from practice, veteran defensive tackle Dwan Edwards is still taking it easy on his injured hamstring.

Edwards did not practice Monday but did work on the sidelines with the trainers. He said the early bye week came at a perfect time for him after missing the Giants game, and he is optimistic he’ll be able to play Sunday.

“Yeah I’m hoping to get there,” Edwards said. “Just keep making progress and have no setbacks (and) I should be there and be ready to go.”

Williams update: Offensive lineman Garry Williams stopped by the locker room Monday along with several other injured players as the team prepared for a players union meeting.

Williams, who was the starter at right guard this season before tearing his MCL and ACL in Week 1, said he has not had surgery yet. It’s been guard-by-committee for the Panthers since his injury, with Chris Scott getting the majority of the repetitions at right guard.

Williams also missed all of the 2011 with a broken ankle suffered in the preseason.

“I’ll come back stronger,” Williams said. “It’s just another steppingstone I’ve got to overcome. I’m just going to continue to work and get better.”

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9

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