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Refreshed Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart: Feels like my fifth year

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Jonathan Stewart's offseason included a trip to Japan, a Mariah Carey show in Las Vegas, a dune buggy ride in the desert, Game 7 of the NBA Finals in Oakland and his first helicopter ride during a sightseeing tour in New York City.

The Carolina Panthers running back says he felt it was important mentally and physically to get away after an NFL season that was extended into February with a trip to Super Bowl 50.

It obviously paid off. Stewart looks refreshed, revitalized and ready to go. He made a spin move the second day of camp that was as good as any in his career, one that should ease any worries about the foot injury he suffered in the Super Bowl.

"This is my ninth year. I feel like it's my fifth year," Stewart said Wednesday as the Panthers resumed practice after a day off.

Coach Ron Rivera wants to keep Stewart fresh during the season by reducing his carries. With the improvement of second-year running backs Cameron Artis-Payne and Brandon Wegher, and the growth of Fozzy Whittaker, Rivera believes that is possible.

Stewart was a workhorse last season, rushing a career-high 242 times for 989 yards and six touchdowns in 13 regular-season games. He averaged a career-high 18.6 carries a game, 4.8 carries more than his previous high of 13.8 in 2009.

Rivera has limited Stewart's carries in training camp because he knows what he can do and understands how valuable the 29-year-old was before a foot injury sidelined him the final three regular-season games.

"There's no need to expose him," Rivera said.

That means more work for Artis-Payne and Wegher, as well as undrafted rookie Jalen Simmons out of South Carolina State. Artis-Payne in particular looks better suited to handle the load should something happen to Stewart.

Stewart has noticed it, too.

"Just his confidence, you can see it in his pass blocking," Stewart said. "He's gotten a lot better, more physical. His attention to details has picked up."

After the Super Bowl, Stewart noticed he needed to get away. The trip to Japan was his first outside the United States.

While there, he tried new foods.

"I had an octopus," he said. "I didn't really like it. It was a little gummy for sure. That was as exotic as it gets."

Now Stewart is back to basics, trying to find that right balance that will allow him to handle whatever load is placed on him.

"Today was a nice, little blessing," Stewart said of the cloud cover and rain that gave players a break from the extreme heat. "It's been cool to be a vet and really see the growth in certain players."