RB Jonathan Stewart 'optimistic'

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Panthers running Jonathan Stewart returned to practice after missing the season opener with a sprained right ankle.

Stewart says he's "making progress" in rehab and is "optimistic" he'll play Sunday in Carolina's home opener Sunday against New Orleans.

The Panthers can certainly use Stewart's help in the running game after tying a franchise-low with 10 yards rushing in a 16-10 loss to Tampa Bay.

Stewart, who received a five-year contract extension this summer, sprained his right ankle in Carolina's third preseason game and was questionable leading into the season opener.

However, coach Ron Rivera erred on the side of caution and kept Stewart out of action. Stewart says there was no way he could have played. It was the first game Stewart has missed during his four NFL seasons.