By Ted Fleming
The Panthers had an extra week to bask in the glory of their most dominant performance in years, but now it is back to business in preparation for a weekend in the desert. With the Arizona Cardinals up next, Carolina could get back a key member of their secondary.
Cornerback Josh Thomas was back at practice on Monday after being cleared by doctors. He missed the Week 3 win over the Giants for precautionary reasons due to post-concussion symptoms and that is good news for Carolina who was pretty banged up entering that game.
The Panthers brought back corner Drayton Florence, who was with the team in training camp, and signed safety Robert Lester off the practice squad making him a starter just to have enough healthy bodies on the team. As it turned out, the secondary got a big boost from the front seven, as they took much of the pressure off of those behind them.
Thomas, who is in his third year with the Panthers, was injured on the first play against the Bills and his replacement, Josh Norman, also left that game after being hit by a helmet in his thigh. That was not the end of Carolina’s misery that day because free safety Charles Godfrey would suffer a season-ending Achilles injury.
Now, other than Godfrey, the secondary is getting healthy and that will go a long way to slowing down Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer. The 11-year pro out of USC has already thrown for 1,010 yards and is averaging 252.5 per game.
Wideouts Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd are a formidable duo that Palmer will target throughout. Should the running game be shut down by the Panthers seventh ranked defense, Palmer is sure to put a lot of balls up for grabs if he is not dropped first. He has been sacked 10 times and when he does get the time he has thrown six interceptions.
The Panthers are also getting good news on the other side of the football. Running back Jonathan Stewart has not played a down all season because of a nagging right ankle problem which landed him on the physically unable to perform list, but it was reported he did some wind sprints at what appeared to be full speed. The 26-year-old Oregon alumnus is eligible to come off the PUP in two weeks.
DeAngelo Williams has been carrying most of the load this season because backup Kenjon Barner has also been sidelined with a sore foot. Stewart has been the perfect complement to Williams because he can come out of the backfield as a receiver with his excellent hands.
Williams is off to a hot start with 62 rushes for 291 yards in three games (4.7 average) but has only four receptions. Stewart has caught 98 balls in his career averaging a little more than nine yards, but seems to have fallen victim to the injury bug which limited him to just nine games a year ago.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.