Tight end Greg Olsen officially is listed as questionable, but coach Ron Rivera said the three-time Pro Bowler is on target to return only five weeks and three games after re-fracturing the right foot that sidelined him for nine games last season.
"As of right now, yes,'' Rivera said Friday, indicating Olsen would start if there are no signs of a setback on Saturday or Sunday morning.
Rivera said Olsen took more reps than normal Friday, the first time rain hasn't been a factor at practice this week, to test the foot.
"He ran around really well, so we're pretty excited about it,'' Rivera said.
Nobody is more excited than Newton to have Olsen back.
"The band is back,'' Newton said earlier in the week, anticipating that the Panthers (3-1) would have Olsen for Sunday's game at Washington (2-2).
Olsen and Newton were the most prolific quarterback-tight end combination in the league from 2014 to 2016. During that span, Olsen became the first tight end in NFL history to record three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
New offensive coordinator Norv Turner looks forward to finally having Olsen back in the mix after he suffered the injury in the first quarter of the opener -- Olsen's first game in Turner's system.
"It adds a player that Cam is very comfortable with,'' Turner said. "He will draw more attention, so it should help other guys get coverages that are friendly to them.''
Olsen avoided a longer rehab this season because the screw that was surgically implanted last year kept the bone from completely breaking again.
Since there was not another surgery and no lengthy time away recovering, Olsen has been able to maintain his conditioning and quickly go from a walking boot to no boot at all. He expects to be ready to contribute faster on this return than he did a year ago.
"I'm confident I'll be better when I first come back and play a game than I was those first couple of games when I came back last year,'' Olsen said.
Olsen had one catch on five targets for 10 yards in his first two games back a year ago. He finally looked like Newton's favorite target in his third game, catching nine passes on 12 targets for 116 yards and a touchdown against Green Bay.
Olsen had eight catches on 12 targets for 107 yards and a touchdown in a first-round playoff loss to New Orleans.
Newton joked that he was going to ask his grandmother to pray for Olsen to remain healthy.
"Big shout out to Hattie Lou Newton,'' the 2015 NFL MVP said. "They always used to say, if you've got a praying grandmother ... I really do. He means a lot to our team as TD [Thomas Davis] means to the defense. He's a very intellectual person that helps me out with the playcalling.
"I call him 'the dictator' in the huddle.''
Davis will be playing for the first time this season after being suspended the first four games for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
Newton is glad to have Carolina's defensive leader return, as well.
"It goes without saying how much he means to this team,'' Newton said of 34-year-old Davis. "A captain, a hard worker who sets the tempo. It looks like we're peaking at the right time.''