Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart may practice Wednesday

jjones@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 6, 2014 

Panthers Saints Football

Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart (28) suffered a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee Sunday night against the New Orleans Saints, and is out at least until Week 17. Stewart has played in 15 of 29 games since signing a contract extension before last season, and missed the rest with injuries.

DAVE MARTIN — AP

Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart is recovering quietly from a knee sprain and said Monday he feels “pretty comfortable.”

Stewart, in his sixth season, hasn’t practiced since spraining his MCL against the Saints on Dec. 8 but said he expects to practice Wednesday.

The Panthers face the San Francisco 49ers at 1 p.m. Sunday at Bank of America Stadium in the second round of the NFC playoffs.

“It’s all up to what the trainers think about how I practice on Wednesday,” said Stewart about his availability for Sunday’s home playoff game against the 49ers. “I can’t get ahead of myself.”

Stewart ran on the sideline during practice Monday after weeks of rehab inside the building. He said he’s been running at full speed with little to no pain since last week.

“Since Thursday I’ve been running more and more, and I’ve gotten more comfortable as I’ve been going,” Stewart said.

Stewart had 180 yards on 48 rushes during an injury-shortened regular season. He missed the first eight weeks of the season recovering from offseason ankle surgery before missing the final three games of the season.

Running back DeAngelo Williams is the expected starter no matter Stewart’s health for Sunday.

Tight end Ben Hartsock (knee) and safety Quintin Mikell (thumb) also practiced Monday. Mikell has practiced with a cast on his right hand since last week.

Interview with a coordinator: Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott met with the Washington Redskins during the weekend to interview for the team’s vacant head coaching spot, but he offered no clues Monday as to how the interview went.

McDermott didn’t give details on the interview or say when he expected to hear from the team. He said it was an honor to be considered.

“But my focus – you’ve got to understand, we’ve worked so hard for this opportunity,” he said. “We’ve got a big opportunity in front of us, so we’ve got a lot of work to do this week.”

News of McDermott’s interview broke early last week, and he told players in the defensive meeting Wednesday that he was taking the interview but that he still was focused on the task at hand in Carolina.

“I get paid by the Carolina Panthers to do a job,” McDermott said. “And that’s what I’m here to do, and do it to the best of my ability. Anything outside of that, I did on my own time. That’s 15 years of preparation, not just one week of preparation. … It’s an honor. But we’re moving forward, and I’m focused on this football team and this football game.”

Hardy absent: Defensive end Greg Hardy missed practice Monday with what Panthers coach Ron Rivera said was a bout of bronchitis.

“(Team internist) Dr. (Rob) Heyer just happened to be in today and came in and saw him. So we just thought with the cold weather and everything, we didn’t want to have him breathing in the cold air,” Rivera said.

Rivera expected Hardy to check in Tuesday morning for an update on his progress.

Hardy finished the regular season by tying the franchise’s single-season sack mark with 15. He had three tackles, and one tackle for a loss, in Week 10 against the 49ers.

Underdog Panthers: The Panthers opened as a one-point favorite against the 49ers on Jan. 12 in the betting lines, but that didn’t last long.

As of early evening Monday, San Francisco was a consensus two-point favorite among the top betting services.

Some of the top services have the 49ers as a one- or two-point favorite, and the consensus over/under is 42 points. That is 23 points more than the first meeting between the teams but still more than five points fewer than any other divisional round game.

“It’s kind of funny,” Rivera said. “Being the underdog takes the pressure off us and puts the pressure on them. Now the expectations are for them. We’re at home, we’re going to show up and do the best we can. It’s a big week, we know it is, and we’re going to show up on Sunday and it’ll be a lot of fun.”

All black: The Panthers are pushing out their “Back in Black” campaign for Sunday’s game, and they want the fans to be part of it.

Carolina will be in its all-black uniforms, and a message on the Panthers’ official Twitter account encouraged fans to wear black for the game.

Collegiate allegiances: Panthers kicker Graham Gano placed a Florida State sweatshirt in the locker of Cam Newton and took a picture of it on the day of FSU’s national title game against Auburn.

Newton, a former Tiger, wore an orange long-sleeved shirt under his jersey at practice. Gano, a Florida State alumnus, said he’d be watching the game with his wife at home.

“I didn’t even want to have the chance of wearing orange,” Gano said of a possible wager with Newton. “Not even just Auburn. Orange with Florida is a no-go.”

Staff writer Joseph Person contributed.

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

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