Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton missed the first regular-season practice of his career Wednesday, although his coach still doesn’t expect Newton to miss Sunday’s NFL season opener at Tampa Bay.
Newton sat out after experiencing soreness in his cracked ribs, and Panthers coach Ron Rivera is uncertain whether Newton will practice Thursday.
Newton said last week “there’s not a doubt in my mind” he would play against the Bucs. And while Rivera shares Newton’s confidence, he made no guarantees.
“I’m optimistic. I expect him to be there, and we’ll see how it all unfolds,” Rivera said. “We’ve got to look at this as we go through it day by day.”
Newton was the only player listed on the Panthers’ injury report, and it’s the first time in Newton’s three-plus seasons he’s appeared under “did not participate.”
Newton was on the practice field during the 30 minutes the media were allowed to watch Wednesday. But he spent most of that time working with head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion on the fit of his padded vest.
Rivera said Newton left practice early to return to Bank of America Stadium to receive treatment on his ribs, leaving backup Derek Anderson and No. 3 quarterback Joe Webb to take the reps.
Newton was not made available to the media Wednesday.
Newton sustained a hairline fracture of the ribs Aug. 22 against New England when Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins kneed him in the lower back at the end of Newton’s 7-yard scramble.
Newton, who underwent offseason surgery on his left ankle, has started each of the Panthers’ 48 regular-season games (and one playoff game) since Carolina drafted him No. 1 overall in 2011. He’s been sidelined for only a handful of snaps because of injury.
Anderson and rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin said they expect Newton to play against the Bucs.
“I think he’ll be all right. He’s tough. He’s a competitor, man,” Benjamin said. “When you compete as high as Cam (does), he’ll be all right.”
Veteran wideout Jerricho Cotchery hopes Newton is OK, but said rib injuries are tough to deal with. Cotchery, then with Pittsburgh, missed two games with a rib injury in 2012 and played through rib issues again last season.
“Ribs are tricky things. I had (injured) ribs before, sometimes they feel good and sometimes they feel bad, depending on the type of work you’re getting,” Cotchery said. “They’re really tricky. So we’ll just see how he feels moving forward.”
After taking off last week and sitting out the exhibition finale at Pittsburgh, Newton threw about 25 passes on Saturday, according to Rivera. Newton participated in Monday’s practice, and was at the stadium Tuesday during the players’ off day to receive treatment and work in the weight room.
While Wednesday and Thursday are the biggest work days for NFL teams, the Panthers’ practice Monday was more intense than usual after the long weekend.
Rivera said he would not change the game plan, regardless of Newton’s status. Anderson said he’s preparing as if he’ll be the starter, which is Anderson’s approach every week.
“I always do. I still have to be ready to go no matter what happens,” Anderson said. “So I still do my extra throwing on the side and make sure mentally I’m ready to go, and go through everything. I’ll be ready, and whatever happens, happens.”
Tampa Bay first-year coach Lovie Smith said the Bucs expect to face Newton. In two victories against Tampa Bay last season, Newton completed 41 of 61 passes for 484 yards, with four touchdowns and two interceptions. He was the leading rusher in both games.
“Cam Newton is a great player. He’s had some little minor brushes with injuries in the past, but we feel like we are preparing for a 100 percent healthy Cam Newton, and we have to be,” Smith said. “We realize what’s at stake and what he is going to bring to the table this week.”
According to ESPN, Newton has been hit 467 times since the start of the 2011 season – more than twice as many hits as any other quarterback during that span.
Rivera wants to see Newton slide more often and avoid taking so many hits, but the coach isn’t sure Newton will change.
“You’d like to see him develop another style or taper his style and control it,” Rivera said. “But that’s what makes him who he is.”