Carolina Panthers

Panthers; Stewart held out of practice

CHARLOTTE -- Even though he hasn't practiced in a week or played in two, Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart was held out of practice Wednesday because of a sore left heel.

Coach John Fox said there was nothing specific as to the origin of the injury, calling it "an accumulation of football -- practice, games, all of the above."

When asked if that was unusual coming off a bye week, when players get their last extended rest, Fox shook his head.

"Not really," he said. "It was something that just probably got sore."

Fox gave no other details other than his usual "day-to-day" diagnosis.

Stewart didn't talk to reporters Wednesday -- nothing new for the quiet rookie -- but he huddled with Fox for a few moments by his locker before ducking into the training room for treatment.

While it's unclear what they were discussing, the Panthers have had to talk him through some injury issues before. Early in camp, he appeared hesitant to trust his surgically repaired right big toe, before being assured by doctors he wasn't going to do further damage by playing through some soreness and breaking up the scar tissue leftover from last March's surgery.

Stewart's had a mostly good first half of the season, rushing for 362 yards on 96 carries and five TDs behind starter DeAngelo Williams. But four of those scores came in the first four games, and he's alternated between productive and barely there in the next four. After rushing for 72 yards against Kansas City, he followed with 12 against Tampa Bay, 68 and a touchdown against New Orleans and an eight-carry, 10-yard disappearance against Arizona.

Though he's looked good for the most part in short yardage (converting 4-of-5 attempts on third-and-1), he's been stuffed far more often than anticipated.

• WHO ARE THESE GUYS: The Panthers had a strange sight on the practice field Wednesday -- their starting offensive line together.

Right tackle Jeff Otah and center Ryan Kalil were back after missing four and three games, respectively, with ankle problems.

"So far, so good," Fox said. "Any time you get starters back, you're encouraged."

The Panthers' line played well in the absence (just two sacks allowed the last five games), but those involved were clearly glad to have all hands on deck.

"Certainly, Otah is a big presence, and getting Ryan back out there ... we'll see how they feel tomorrow, but for the most part, they looked pretty good," quarterback Jake Delhomme said.

"Hopefully, we'll get the starting five out there. We've invested a lot of time and work all through the offseason and training camp with those guys, and we'd like to get everybody out there."

The projected starters have played just 39 snaps of the 489 offensive plays in the first eight games.

• PRIDE GAME: The Panthers know they're getting an inspired bunch this week, after Oakland was humiliated 24-0 by Atlanta. The Falcons controlled the ball for more than 45 minutes and outgained the Raiders 453-77. Of the Raiders' total, 79 came in the second half. The Raiders were held to minus-2 yards in the first.

Raiders linebacker Kirk Morrison said that has them looking inside, knowing their pride's on the line.

"One thing about the NFL that I've learned is that you play for this team," Morrison said. "You play for the name on the front of your jersey. But also, at the end of the day, it's also about the guy with the name on the back of his jersey.

"What you put out there on the field reflects on the name on the back of your jersey, too. A lot of guys felt that we didn't play up to our expectations that I know we can play at. We've had some good games this year, but we know that when we do things right, this is going to happen.

"We're going to come out and play a different ballgame because we don't want to repeat what we had last week. It's something that I want to let go and not even think about it anymore and move forward."

• EXTRA POINTS: Backup defensive tackle Darwin Walker (neck) was held out of practice. Five other players with previous issues were listed as participating fully: Kalil, Otah, linebacker Thomas Davis (ankle), cornerback Chris Gamble (ankle) and wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett (hip). ...

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was released from Carolinas Medical Center Wednesday morning and returned home to recuperate. Richardson was checked last week, and doctors found an irregular heartbeat. He had surgery Monday to insert a pacemaker defibrillator. The 72-year-old owner had quadruple bypass surgery in 2002.

Team officials said he was in good spirits and recovering well.

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