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Newton healthy, but several key Panthers aren’t

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Carolina Panthers’ only injury concern going into Week 1 last year was at quarterback. This year, as Carolina gets ready to open in Jacksonville, quarterback Cam Newton is healthy, but many of his teammates aren’t.

Receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Stephen Hill, plus defensive end Frank Alexander, were lost to season-ending injuries during the first three weeks of August.

Three-quarters of the starting defensive line barely played during the preseason, and the top two cornerbacks were in the concussion protocol a week before the regular year.

Injuries affect every team, but it’s been a particularly painful month and a half for the two-time defending NFC South champions.

“We’ve got to get some guys back healthy; I think that’s been the story of the preseason,” tight end Greg Olsen said.

“What we have on paper, you want to make sure that’s the team we roll out there with. If you can go into this first game with as full of a roster as you can, you give yourself a chance.”

Exiting the preseason finale in Pittsburgh, the Panthers’ injury list looked like this: receiver Jerricho Cotchery (groin), tight end Richie Brockel (shoulder), center Ryan Kalil (knee), defensive end Charles Johnson (calf, trap), defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (foot), cornerback Josh Norman (concussion), cornerback Charles Tillman (concussion), cornerback Teddy Williams (groin), defensive back Colin Jones (groin).

But there are at least signs most on the long injury list could return to play the Jaguars, including Kalil.

“We’ll be there with the guys,” Kalil said. “That’s the plan.”

When the Panthers beat the Bucs behind backup quarterback Derek Anderson last year, it was the first time head coach Ron Rivera had won an opener in his four seasons.

It also helped Carolina get off to a 3-2 start, a sizable improvement from its previous 1-5, 1-5 and 1-3 beginnings.

Starting in Week 6, the Panthers face a brutal stretch featuring the Seahawks, Eagles, Colts and Packers.

Before that gauntlet, it’s the Jaguars, Texans, Saints and Bucs. So even if the Panthers aren’t at full strength in September, another above-.500 start is essential.

“We better be ready,” Newton said. “There’s a lot of anticipation going into Week 1. We have to have a great week of practice to carry over the things that we’ve been building up to this point — from great OTAs and a great training camp. We need a lot of guys ready to go.”

Notes: Running back Brandon Wegher, who played at Morningside College last fall after he was out of football for three years, is one of two undrafted free agents on the Panthers’ final roster. The other is safety Dean Marlowe, who played for James Madison in the FCS. … Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei hasn’t been on the field since he suffered a stress reaction in his foot during the first week of camp, but the Panthers hope he will return to practice this week. … Cornerback Josh Norman could miss the early part of the week after suffering a concussion against the Steelers. The early sense is he has a good chance to be on the field in Jacksonville. … Cornerback Charles Tillman, who has been in the concussion protocol since the third preseason game against the Dolphins, is expected to be cleared this week.


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