Rivera: Steve Smith returning to practice

I know there’s panic some panic among Carolina fans about Steve Smith's foot infection. Well, I think you can let out a sigh of relief.

Coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday he expects the five-time Pro Bowler to return to practice Sunday and be ready for the Sept. 9 opener against Tampa Bay. At least in the relative world of NFL coaches talking about injuries, Rivera has been one of the more open and honest about injuries. So I think the conspiracy theories about Smith’s injury can go away.

Smith won’t play in the preseason finale against Pittsburgh, but that’s no big deal at all. Smith knows the offense as well as anyone and has nothing to prove. Heck, if I were coaching the Panthers, I’d hold Smith out of the final preseason game even if he hadn’t had the foot infection. There’s no sense risking injury to a veteran like him in a meaningless exhibition game.

By the way, Rivera also said linebacker Jon Beason, offensive tackle Jordan Gross, fullback Mike Tolbert and running back Jonathan Stewart also will be held out of the Pittsburgh game. In the case of Gross and Beason, I’m pretty sure the Panthers are just resting veterans. But I think we should all keep an eye on the practice status of Tolbert and Stewart as the start of the regular season gets closer.