CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Cam Newton is quickly working his way back from ankle surgery.
Carolina's Pro Bowl quarterback did some light throwing during Wednesday's OTA and coach Ron Rivera said afterward he wouldn't rule out Newton participating in the team's mandatory minicamp June 17-19.
''I wouldn't put it past him,'' Rivera said.
If Newton can return early that would give him a chance to begin developing some chemistry with a completely revamped receiving corps.
Carolina parted ways with its top four receivers from last season, including Steve Smith.
Newton went through warm-ups with his teammates and then mostly played the role of cheerleader during the two-hour practice session, except for a short period where he threw 10- to 20-yard passes to receivers from a stationary position. However, Newton stayed after practice to throw a few dozen additional passes to some of the team's younger wide receivers, including first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin.
The QB had surgery to relieve chronic pain in his left ankle and had been expected to miss four months - which would have kept him out until just before the start of training camp.
But he appears ahead of schedule.
''He's been doing it for the last few days - throwing the ball on the side,'' Rivera said. ''He's been looking good, he really has. And I'm excited about it. He says that foot is getting stronger and stronger every day so we're excited about what's happening for him.''
Newton did not address the media Wednesday.
He has been working on building a relationship with Benjamin, who helped Florida State win a national championship last season and is a player the team hopes will develop into the No. 1 receiver to replace Smith, who was released during the offseason.
''It's neat to see,'' Rivera said. ''They have kind of hit it off.''
Defensive end Greg Hardy, who was arrested earlier this month for assaulting a female and communicating threats, did participate in practice. However, he declined interview requests as he left the practice field saying he had to get inside the stadium to lift weights.
Hardy is scheduled to appear in court June 27 to answer the misdemeanor charges.
Hardy's teammates said they don't believe his arrest will be a distraction.
''You just come to work. That's what we do - let the work speak for itself,'' said defensive end Charles Johnson. ''I don't get into people's personal lives. As long as (guys) come to work ready to work.''
Hardy has been a major producer for the Panthers the last two seasons.
After registering 11 sacks in 2012, Hardy tied a franchise record with 15 sacks last season and was selected to his first Pro Bowl.
''Greg's looked really good,'' Rivera said. ''It's tough because we're not in pads, so when he comes off the ball the tackles can't really strike him the way you normally would in pads. So I think advantage goes to him right now. He's very quick, very athletic and doing some very good things.''
The NFC South champion Panthers made Hardy their franchise player earlier this year, giving him more than $13 million for the 2014 season. But that decision forced the salary cap strapped Panthers to part ways with other players following a 12-4 season..
Johnson said he expects a lot of people to count the Panthers out because of the players they've lost from last year's team.
He recommends they don't.
''Just because we have new people doesn't mean we aren't going to do good,'' Johnson said. ''We are going to be all right.''
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