A healthy Stewart, other OTA observations

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart has missed so many offseason and preseason practices with injuries during his six-year NFL career that you'd swear he was faking it to avoid the hot, humid days that are typical in these parts.

He's not.

Stewart's injuries, from big toe surgery that kept him out of OTAs in 2008 to ankle surgery that sidelined him throughout the entire 2013 offseason, have been legitimate.

But he's healthy now, as healthy as he's been since the 2011 season.

If the former Oregon star can return to the form he was in 2009 when he rushed for 1,133 yards sharing the backfield with DeAngelo Williams as they became known as "Double Trouble," the Panthers can't help but be better for it in their quest to be a ball-control team.

"Very excited about having Jonathan on the field," coach Ron Rivera said after Wednesday's workout. "He's healthy again. He's moving the way we need him to move. I like what we're getting out of him.

"Even Jonathan is saying this is the first time he's been healthy [in a while]. So that's a good thing."

The rotation of a healthy Stewart and Williams, along with fullback/halfback Mike Tolbert, could give the Panthers one of the best trio of running backs in the league.

Throw in quarterback Cam Newton, who should be stronger and faster than ever once his left ankle completely heals from surgery, and Carolina has four legitimate threats in the running game.

That's why Rivera said Stewart doesn't need to be a 1,000-yard rusher to be effective. He just needs Stewart to be more effective than he was a year ago when he spent the first seven games on the physically unable to perform list and then missed the last three games after suffering a knee injury at New Orleans.

"We need to be able to rush for 100 yards a game like we did last year," Rivera said. "That's one of the things that really helped us out [last season]. We ran the ball well, we controlled the clock, we controlled the tempo of the game."

A healthy Stewart would help all of that.

A few more observations from Wednesday:

  • Guard Chris Scott, who spent last Wednesday working with trainers on conditioning and left practice the previous Wednesday because he was overheated, wasn't on the field. Rivera would not be specific for why Scott was out other than to say it was health related.

  • Third-round draft pick Trai Turner, particularly with Scott out, continues to get the bulk of the work at right guard.

  • Fourth-year player Mario Addison, not second-round draft pick Kony Ealy, worked a lot with the first team at defensive end with Greg Hardy out with a minor leg injury. Hardy, by the way, was expected back Thursday and for next week's minicamp.

  • Neither Rivera nor quarterback Cam Newton could be lured into what Newton called a "pissing match" with former wide receiver Brandon LaFell, now with New England. LaFell said last week that the Patriots' offseason workouts were tougher than what he was used to at Carolina. Rivera wished LaFell well, but insisted his practices were plenty tough enough. Newton said he respects LaFell but he "begged to differ."