September 07, 2015

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) The Carolina Panthers began preparing for Sunday's regular season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars without four-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil and starting defensive tackle Star Lotulelei.

Kalil is still recovering from a left knee sprain, while Lotulelei has missed the entire preseason with a stress reaction in his surgically repaired right foot.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera expressed optimism that Kalil will play against the Jaguars after running in practice, but was more cautious with his words on Lotulelei's chances of playing.

''If it's sore we're not going to risk it,'' Rivera said of Lotulelei's status.'' It's a long season and we've got to be smart. There are 17 weeks ahead and we can't be hasty.''

Three other starters returned to practice on Monday.

Cornerbacks Josh Norman and Charles Tillman were back to work after sitting out the preseason finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers with concussion-like symptoms, while defensive end Charles Johnson practiced after battling left calf and right hand injuries that kept him out of all four preseason games.

Rivera said Tillman has been removed from the concussion protocol, while Norman still needs to pass one more medical test before being cleared to play Sunday.

Norman was able to practice Monday because it was a non-contact practice.

Backup fullback Richie Brockel remained out of practice with a shoulder injury.

Rivera spoke Monday for the first time since the team trimmed its roster to 53 players on Saturday.

He said the two toughest cuts were running back Jordan Todman and safety Marcus Ball.

''Both of those guys deserve opportunities,'' Rivera said. ''I wasn't surprised to see Todman sign with Pittsburgh and I wouldn't be surprised if someone is sniffing around Marcus.''

Rivera said he went with undrafted rookie Brandon Wegher over Todman because he's more of an every down running back while Todman is a third-down specialist.

NOTES: Rivera has named Corey ''Philly'' Brown and Ted Ginn Jr. the team's starting wide receivers for Sunday's season opener against Jacksonville. Both positions had been up for grabs since Kelvin Benjamin tore his ACL in training camp. Brown dropped five passes including two would-be touchdowns from Cam Newton during the preseason.

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