SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton hasn't been officially ruled out for Friday night's preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills, but he did not participate in team drills on Thursday.
Newton left the field in a golf cart halfway through practice after participating in only a few one-on-one passing drills. He was accompanied by trainer Ryan Vermillion, who put Newton's left ankle (that was surgically repaired in March) through a series of tests.
Backup quarterback Derek Anderson took most of the snaps with the first team.
Newton, who has never missed a regular-season start since being selected with the first pick in 2011, said he has not been told he is not playing.
"I'm going about it as if I am playing," he said. "Do I want to play? I do. I think this is an opportunity for me to play. But I'm sticking to the program and what Coach is asking me to do and ... our head trainer is asking me to do, and I'm sticking to it."
Coach Ron Rivera said that was part of the master plan set before camp began and that Newton's absence shouldn't be viewed as a setback. He said it simply was an opportunity to see how structurally sound the ankle is.
"I'm not predicting anything," Rivera said regarding Newton's status for the 7:30 p.m. game at Bank of America Stadium. "We have a thing that has been mapped out. We're going to be very deliberate.
"This has happened in the past with some other players on some other teams. We want to learn from those things and make sure we're set and ready to go with our quarterback."
If Newton plays, Rivera said it won't be more than two series and the playcalling will be very limited. Newton hasn't been allowed to scramble or run the read-option in training camp.
"The big thing is he's got to be able to protect himself," Rivera said. "If something breaks down or something wrong happens, he has to be able to [protect himself]. That's what we're really concerned about.
"The other thing, too, is if he takes a hit on it. That's the other thing we've got to make sure of, that it's structurally sound."
Whoever starts at quarterback will be protected by basically a new offensive line against a Buffalo defense that sacked Newton six times in Week 2 last season. Byron Bell, who started last season at right tackle, will start on the left side as he attempts to replace the retired Jordan Gross.
Rivera said the game plan coaches have also will figure into whether Newton plays. Because the team also has a new group of wide receivers, including first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin, coaches want to see how they perform under fire.
If Newton plays, Rivera said it would be primarily handoffs.
"We have a game plan in and want to see how that would affect him," Rivera said. "The big thing we have to do and understand is about making sure he's protected and he can protect himself."
Rivera added that it's only a matter of days before Newton gets clearance from the trainers to run the read-option that third-stringer Joe Webb has championed thus far.
When told that Rivera said he might be limited to handoffs if he plays, Newton smiled.
"I'm trying to win," he said. "We play for this game for one reason and one reason only. We practice for one reason and one reason only, and that is to win the day. If I have an opportunity and it presents itself, I'm going to put my team in position to win."
Newton said he occasionally experiences a minor pain in the ankle, and that he often has to remind himself not to limp because he became used to doing that naturally during the rehabilitation.
"It's like a thump from your mom," he said of the pain. "When you say something you weren't supposed to say she would thump you right in the ear or your head and it hurts for that little second, but will go away in two or three seconds.
"It's a reminder that, 'Hey, you better check yourself.' It's a reminder for me that I better be mindful of that step."
Rivera said it's important for Newton's confidence and for the team to take that next step before the season.
"Absolutely," Rivera said. "The key for us is for him to be able to take those reps and do the things he's accustomed to."