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Posted: Tuesday September 4, 2012 3:38PM ; Updated: Tuesday September 4, 2012 3:38PM

Rivera optimistic RB Stewart will play in opener

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Jonathan Stewart
Jonathan Stewart was second on the Panthers with 761 rushing yards last year.
CSM /Landov
NFL Team Page

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Panthers coach Ron Rivera says he's optimistic running back Jonathan Stewart will play Sunday in the season opener at Tampa Bay.

Stewart sprained his right ankle in the team's third preseason game Aug, 26 and hasn't practice since.

Although he was held out of practice, Rivera says Stewart "moved around very nicely" during a private workout Monday. Rivera says that's a "very encouraging sign" and he's hopeful Stewart will return to practice Wednesday when the team continues this week's game preparation in Bradenton, Fla.

The Panthers were scheduled to fly out of Charlotte Tuesday to avoid scheduling conflicts with the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

Wide receiver Steve Smith (foot infection) and Jon Beason (hamstring) both participated in practice.

Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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