SPARTANBURG -- The Panthers are going to be without wide receiver/returner Ryne Robinson for most of the preseason, though he hopes he's back in time for the regular-season opener.
Robinson went down last week after a collision with safety Nate Salley, and an MRI revealed he suffered a sprained medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments in his left knee. That's typically a three- to four-week injury. He shrugged when asked when he thought he'd return, saying "it's at least a couple of weeks."
"He's been evaluated, and it's a sprained knee and we're doing rehab on that as we speak," coach John Fox said. "He's week-to-week."
Robinson was having an excellent camp, showing more of a knack for both his return duties and looking more comfortable on offense, as well.
At this moment, they're using wide receiver Jason Carter and cornerback Darren Toney on punt returns, and corner Ricardo Colclough and Carter for kickoffs in practice.
The shortage at his position and concerns about the long-term stability of his left knee will almost certainly have the team looking closely at the waiver wire for return options.
General manager Marty Hurney said the team wasn't "actively" looking for help there, but would always look for upgrades as it does at every position.
With Robinson on the shelf for another month or so, the Panthers are becoming quite shorthanded there.
Steve Smith (ankle) and D.J. Hackett (toe) were each carted off the practice field Wednesday morning, though Fox indicated that neither injury was serious. Smith was back for the afternoon practice.
• STEWART UPDATE: Rookie running back Jonathan Stewart said he still isn't able to show his full "explosiveness" during of his recovery from offseason toe surgery, and that some of his cutting ability is still "limited."
"Right now, my toe is coming along," Stewart said. "It's a slow process, especially coming off the surgery. We just have to be patient with that.
"With anything, if you have surgery, you have to let it break itself in. That's what I'm going through right now."
The team's monitored Stewart's practice reps carefully, and keeping him mostly on a one-a-day plan. He said he's still not sure if he'll be able to play in Saturday's preseason opener against Indianapolis. Fox said he was encouraged with the first-round pick's progress, both on and off the field, and the limited work hasn't set him behind.
"He's fine. We're just being precautionary," Fox said. "He's progressing just fine. He's getting plenty of reps. He's in all the meetings. Mentally, he's just fine."
The hardest part for Stewart is holding back, something he's had to get used to since injuring the toe last November.
"I'm just kind of antsy about going out there and just playing again to my full potential," he said. "It's been since November since I've been able to do that. I'm feeling kind of antsy, but patience is a virtue we all desire."
• VOICES IN HIS HEAD: Rookie middle linebacker Dan Connor laughed when asked about the headset he may end up wearing Saturday night, wondering why someone didn't think of it years ago.
There's a chance Connor could end up wearing the inaugural defensive radio, since starter Jon Beason isn't expected to play because of an ankle injury. Adam Seward's working with the first team, but since the starters get so little action in the opener, they may give the radio to Connor to get more practice with it.
This is the first season defensive coaches are allowed to communicate with players on the field via the headsets, and only one player at a time is allowed to have one. They've been working through the process in practice, and Connor acknowledged how helpful Mike Trgovac's voice in his ear was.
"It makes it easier to call the plays, and you're in communication with the coach. So it's new, but it seems helpful.
"It seems like a great invention."
The process during the regular season will be complex, as the team can only have two radio-equipped helmets ready for use. For instance, if Beason had to leave a game, safety Chris Harris would have a backup helmet in a locked case. Teams have to declare which two players are eligible to have the headset 90 minutes before kickoff, and if both are hurt during the game the team's simply out of luck, not able to transfer it to a backup.
• EXTRA POINTS: Cornerback Ken Lucas wasn't around at the morning practice, and team officials confirmed he was getting his broken nose set by doctors. Lucas said Monday he'd need "surgery," to fix it, but that might be an overly dramatic way of saying it.
"He's having a procedure; it's basically setting the nose," Fox said. "He's day-to-day." ...
In addition to Beason (ankle) and Harris (groin), tight ends Gary Barnidge (gluteal strain) and Dante Rosario (hamstring) were held out of the morning work. Wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad and linebacker Na'il Diggs were given veteran days off for rest, along with on-the-mend tackle Charles Spencer (knee). Defensive tackle Ian Scott is still at least another week away after suffering a sprained left medial collateral ligament last week. ...
Quarterback Jake Delhomme and right tackle Jeff Otah were given the afternoon off for rest. Undrafted rookie tight end Chris Conklin (thigh) joined the injured, leaving the team with two healthy tight ends for the afternoon work.