CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Panthers coach Ron Rivera said running back DeAngelo Williams returned to practice Friday and is expected to start against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
Williams practiced full after sitting out the previous two days with a foot injury.
The 31-year-old Williams has been limited to four games due to various injuries and is averaging 3.4 yards per carry. Rivera said Williams is expected to split carries with Jonathan Stewart and Fozzy Whittaker.
Williams took the vast majority of reps at practice on Friday and ''moved around nicely,'' according to Rivera. Stewart also practiced fully after being limited earlier in the week with an ankle injury.
''I'm excited to have both guys feeling the way they did,'' Rivera said.
Rivera said he's sticking with Williams as the starter even though Stewart is averaging 3.9 yards per carry. Rivera said he doesn't put much stock into who starts, adding both backs will play depending on the situation.
He said using Williams as the starter seems to work better.
''You watch the way they feed off one another and stuff like that and you get a sense that there is a rhythm that they have,'' Rivera said. ''To me you don't want to get in the way of that.''
The Panthers come in on a four-game losing streak and are 1-6-1 in their last eight games. Still, they can regain sole possession of first place in the NFC with a win Sunday coupled with a New Orleans loss to Cincinnati.
Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is out with an ankle injury and guard Amini Silatolu is doubtful with a knee injury. Colin Cole or Kawann Short is expected to start for Lotulelei and Trai Turner for Silatolu.
Rivera said he hasn't decided if Antoine Cason or Melvin White will start opposite Josh Norman at cornerback.
Defensive end Charles Johnson missed his second straight day of practice to be with his grandmother, who is battling an illness. He is listed as questionable, but is expected to play Sunday.
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