CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Derek Anderson is preparing as if he will start Monday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with Cam Newton still in the league's concussion protocol.
The 33-year-old Anderson took reps with Carolina's first-team offense for the second straight day , while Newton did not attend the team's outdoor practice.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera offered little in terms of an update on Newton's playing status, saying he won't make a decision on the 2015 MVP until later this week.
''We are not forcing players to get onto the football field,'' Rivera said emphatically Thursday. ''We will do exactly as the protocol tells us and what the doctors and experts tell us.''
The NFL is still investigating how the Panthers handled a helmet-to-helmet hit Newton took in the fourth quarter of a Week 1 loss to the Denver Broncos. Newton stayed in and completed that game despite a ferocious blow to the head. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told The Associated Press on Thursday the league had no update on that investigation.
Newton was one of six starters who didn't practice Thursday.
Running back Jonathan Stewart (hamstring), left tackle Michael Oher (concussion), defensive end Charles Johnson (quad), linebacker Thomas Davis (hamstring) and cornerback James Bradberry (foot) also sat out. Six other starters, including wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., were limited in practice as the injuries continue to mount for the struggling Panthers (1-3).
The Panthers have ''absolute confidence'' in Anderson should he be pressed into a starting role, according to Rivera.
Anderson is 20-25 as an NFL starter, but 2-0 since joining the Panthers six years ago. Coincidentally, both of those wins came against the Buccaneers in 2014.
''He's done a great job for us,'' Rivera said. ''He's been here the whole time and has been very steady. And guys have confidence in him as well, and that's very important.''
Rivera said the game plan wouldn't change if Anderson starts, although he joked he probably would elect to hand the ball off more than Newton when it comes to running the read option.
Newton has struggled so far this season with only six touchdown passes and five interceptions in four starts. He has been sacked 13 times.
Newton left last Sunday's game against Atlanta in the fourth quarter when he took a hit from Falcons linebacker Deion Jones on a 2-point conversion run. Anderson relieved Newton and threw two touchdown passes to get Carolina back in the game. However, two costly interceptions of Anderson in the closing minutes, and the defense's inability to get a stop, were costly in the 48-33 loss.
The Panthers face the Saints the following Sunday and then have a bye, so it's possible the team could err on the side of caution and keep the franchise quarterback out until Oct. 30.
''If I do end up playing I want to prepare and not let my teammates down,'' Anderson said. ''I know the expectations are high and the bar has been set here. ... We still have a lot of good football players in this room and we can turn this thing around.''
If Anderson starts, look for him to key on tight end Greg Olsen.
Olsen caught 18 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown in the two games Anderson started against Tampa Bay in 2014. The duo also hooked up for a touchdown and a 2-point conversion last week against the Falcons.
''He's probably better than a lot of starters in this league,'' Olsen said of Anderson. ''We're happy to have him and lucky to have him.''
NOTES: If Oher can't play, the Panthers will again move Mike Remmers to left tackle and start Daryl Williams at right tackle against the Bucs (1-3). ... Stewart has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury but is making progress running in the pool, Rivera said. Cameron Artis-Payne will split carries with change-of-pace back Fozzy Whittaker if Stewart remains out of action. ... Rookie Daryl Worley will see increased action if Bradberry isn't able to start.
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