Jonathan Stewart injury: Panthers RB could return from PUP list

Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE

Head coach Ron Rivera is "cautiously optimistic" he will get back a key offensive player.

Jonathan Stewart could return as soon as this week, as Ron Rivera is hopeful the fifth-year running back can make his 2013 debut.

Stewart has been sidelined with ankle surgery, which he underwent at the start of preseason following a 2012 year that ended on injured reserve. Ron Rivera told Panthers.com that he's "cautiously optimistic" Stewart will return to action soon.

"He's already worked out today, so we'll take a look at him tomorrow and see how it is, and then we'll start looking at what our options are," Rivera said. "He's at a point where he's doing a lot more, but he's been doing it on the side. (Head athletic trainer) Ryan (Vermillion) will work him out again tomorrow and see how he feels. Then we'll make a determination as we get ready for Wednesday's practice."

The Panthers' running attack has been successful in 2013, rushing for 135.8 yards per game -- good for seventh in the league. DeAngelo Williams is having a resurgence, but is averaging 4.3 yards per carry, one of the lowest totals of his eight-year career.

If Stewart is able to return the smart move will be to bring him back to speed slowly. There's no sense rushing him back to game pace, especially when Williams is running the ball well and Mike Tolbert can serve as the team's short-yardage running back in short situations.

His return would add another weapon to the Panthers' arsenal, which will be much-needed if the team hopes to pull themselves out of a 2-3 record and maybe make a push at the NFC South -- with a little bad mojo for the Saints, of course.

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