PITTSBURGH – Ben Roethlisberger dismissed comparisons with Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton earlier this week, though not because the Steelers quarterback has won a pair of Super Bowls while Newton has yet to win a playoff game.

“He’s a lot better athlete than I am. He can throw it further than I can,” Roethlisberger said. “So I don’t know where the comparisons are. I guess they just say because he’s big, and he’s bigger than me, too. So I guess I’ll take that as a compliment that coaches compare me to him.”

The Steelers gave the hard sell this week when it comes to Newton, the former Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall draft pick.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
AP Photo/Mike McCarnCam Newton, at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, presents a big challenge to the Pittsburgh Steelers defense.
And certainly containing the fourth-year veteran, who has been battling a rib injury, will be critical to the Steelers against the 2-0 Panthers on Sunday night at Bank of America Stadium.

Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau called Newton the “quintessential modern quarterback” because he can beat teams with his arm and his legs.

Newton already has thrown for more than 11,500 yards, and the 6-foot-5, 245-pound quarterback has rushed for more than 2,000 yards and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry for his career.

When veteran Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor refers to Newton as “Cam Mutant,” it is actually the ultimate sign of respect.

“It’s rare when you find a quarterback that has a basketball build, a LeBron [James] build,” Taylor said. “He can make all the throws and it’s going to take more than one guy to get him down.”

What has drawn the Newton and Roethlisberger comparisons is that each is hard to get on the ground, even when the pocket collapses around them.

And Newton, as athletic and fast as he is, isn’t just a threat to run when teams blitz him.

The former Auburn star has improved steadily against the blitz, as he showed last Sunday. In the Panthers’ 24-7 victory over the Detroit Lions, Newton completed 9 of 11 passes when Detroit sent at least five pass rushers after the quarterback, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“He’s a much better passer than maybe people give him credit for,” LeBeau said. “He can throw the pocket balls, but I would never call him a pocket passer. He can do it all and he’s a big guy. We’ll have to play well to keep this offense in check. I think we can do it, but we’ll have to play well.”

Jerricho Cotchery is in his first season with the Panthers after playing for the Steelers from 2011-13.

The veteran wide receiver pleaded the fifth earlier this week when asked if there are comparisons between Newton and Roethlisberger.

“You see the ball coming out of their hands, and they are both big guys,” Cotchery said, “But as far as comparing all of their other skills, I don’t want to get into that. I just want to be respectful when it comes to both of those guys.”
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers aren't exactly stellar when it comes to primetime games.

They are 13-17 heading into Sunday night's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Bank of America Stadium. They are 3-2 under Ron Rivera, but that doesn't make the fourth-year Carolina coach like them more.

"I hate night games,'' Rivera said on Friday. "I really do. First of all, I miss dinner.''

The good news is Rivera gets to see the 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. games, which he likes.

With that, let's get to the Panthers mailbag:

@DNewtonESPN: It all depends on the outcome of the jury trial. If Greg Hardy is found innocent, I'd say there is a 50-50 chance he returns. Coach Ron Rivera said repeatedly this week that he expects Hardy back at some point this season even though Hardy's attorney has said the jury trial for the defensive end's domestic violence case, scheduled for Nov. 17, won't be heard until sometime in 2015 because of an overcrowded court docket. Rivera also has said Hardy is "a member of this team.'' He spent an hour and a half talking to Hardy on Wednesday before Hardy was placed on the commissioner's exempt list. Rivera seems to care about Hardy. Also, what Hardy does on this defense isn't easily replaced because he can rush the passer, stop the run and drop into coverage. He also can play end and tackle. Nobody else on the roster is that versatile, or talented. If Hardy is found guilty, there is no way I see owner Jerry Richardson allowing him back, regardless of the price. If he's found innocent, then it will come down to money. With a new deal awaiting quarterback Cam Newton and eventually linebacker Luke Kuechly, the price might be too high regardless.

@DNewtonESPN: I can almost guarantee it. Defensive end Charles Johnson is set to count $20,020,000 against the 2015 salary cap. So you will see that renegotiated, and eventually his 2016 number of $15,020,000. No other choice for a team with a lot of young, talented players they need to lock up long-term.

@DNewtonESPN: Pretty simple. He never appealed his case and didn't meet the criteria under the new drug policy.

@DNewtonESPN: It's not diminished as much as there hasn't been room for anybody to run with teams stacking eight and nine in the box. Plus, there have been breakdowns in communication up front. Plus, a healthy Jonathan Stewart has taken some of the carries. Mike Tolbert still is a go-to player on short-yardage. Now he needs somebody to block. That looked like a jailbreak when he was knocked for a 4-yard loss at the goal line on Sunday. He called the hit by Detroit's Nick Fairley the hardest he has taken. It scared him so much he hyperventilated.

@DNewtonESPN: Good question. Brandon Williams looked really good in training camp, at least good enough to be kept on the 53-man roster. I think it says more about how well Greg Olsen and Ed Dickson are playing, although Dickson did have a bad drop against Detroit..

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera admits opponents might not respect the running of Cam Newton as much as they have the past three seasons with the quarterback continuing to recover from injuries.

But Rivera has no doubt opponents still respect Carolina's running game.

“You look at the last game we played and they had nine [players] in the box, eight in the box a lot," said Rivera, referring to Sunday's 24-7 victory over Detroit. "They respect the run game."

Tampa Bay also loaded up to stop the run in the opener, a 20-14 Carolina victory in which the Panthers played without Newton, who was sidelined with fractured ribs.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsWith DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert hurting, Cam Newton might take off running a little more on Sunday night.
That, in part, explains why the running game has struggled. Carolina is averaging 87.5 yards in two games, compared to 126.6 yards a game last season.

Leading rusher DeAngelo Williams sat out the Detroit game with a hamstring injury and is questionable for Sunday night's game against Pittsburgh, and that also is a factor.

There also has been a lack of communication up front.

Then there's Newton. His four rushes -- including one kneel-down -- for 19 yards against Detroit tied a career low.

Newton averaged 5.8 carries and 42.3 yards per game the last three seasons. His 2,032 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns in the past three seasons are by far the most of any NFL quarterback.

With Williams and running back/fullback Mike Tolbert (chest contusion) banged up, there might be more of a temptation for Newton to run against a Pittsburgh defense that is surrendering 170 yards rushing a game.

Don't be surprised if the Panthers turn the quarterback loose more than they did against Detroit. Newton looked as healthy as he has in months on Friday, not wearing the flak jacket during a practice in shorts.

"I never go into a game trying to force the issue," Newton said. "My main focus is always take what the defense gives me. If it's a scramble, I'm going to take it. If it's a run that coach calls, I'm going to take it. Trying to execute this offense as best as I can."

As good as Newton looked Friday, Rivera doesn't believe his quarterback will feel 100 percent until sometime in February, after the season is over, because of the pounding he'll take.

Coming into the season, Newton had been hit more than twice as many times (467) as any other quarterback the past three years.

Newton remains adamant he won't change his style and slide instead of diving forward for extra yardage. He didn't slide against Detroit.

"The bigger issue is me staying healthy, staying away from big hits, as I always have," Newton said. "When that's all the defense gives me, get down and get down fast."

To bring heat, Panthers call 'NASCAR'

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- On at least one play during Sunday's 24-7 victory against Detroit the Carolina Panthers lined defensive ends Charles Johnson and Mario Addison in the middle at tackle in order to create more quarterback pressure.

It's called, appropriately, "NASCAR."

"We put four guys out there and say, 'Go fast,'" coach Ron Rivera said on Friday.

The formula is simple, and one that might have to be used more to apply pressure with 2013 sack leader Greg Hardy on leave of absence until his domestic violence case is resolved.

The intent is to put as much pressure as possible on the quarterback with the front four, allowing the linebackers to drop into coverage. It works hand-in-hand with the cornerbacks being physical with wide receivers in the first five yards, to throw off the play's timing.

It's a philosophy that helped Carolina lead the league in sacks last season with 60, without having to blitz a lot.

Rivera said there will be times when you will see defensive tackle Kawann Short surrounded by three ends, or four ends and no tackles. It will always be the fastest and freshest players the Panthers have in obvious passing situations.

Regarding fresh, Rivera said he has to find a way to cut down on the snap counts for Johnson. With Hardy out against Detroit, the team's third all-time leader in sacks (54) was on the field for 62 of 72 defensive snaps.

That was 18 more than the next defensive lineman and 28 more than the next end.

Johnson was double-teamed much of the time because the Lions didn't have to worry about Hardy on the other side. He had no sacks for the game and has none for the season.

"Will he continue to get doubles like he did last week?" Rivera said. "If he's getting doubled, then other guys have got to step up, a la what happened with Mario [2.5 sacks]."

Among others Rivera cited as needing to step up was second-year tackle Star Lotulelei, who also has no sacks.

"We're going to be physical," Rivera said. "We're going to buy that extra step. But we want the four fastest to go, just to get up in there and haul butt."

Rivera said he likely will stick with the rotation he used to replace Hardy at right defensive end against Detroit. Wes Horton started and played mostly on first and second down. Addison played mostly on third down and pass rush situations.

Second-round draft pick Kony Ealy began mostly on third down, but worked more into the rotation on first and second. He could be used to give Johnson a break.

"We've got to be smart," Rivera said. "One of the things we've got to be aware of is that we don't wear Charles out."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams returned to practice on Friday and is expected to play in Sunday night's prime-time game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The team's all-time leading rusher missed last week's 24-7 victory over Detroit with what has been called a thigh injury, but he clarified on Friday that it's a hamstring injury. He also was limited in practice much of this week and continues to be listed as questionable.

But Williams took reps with the first team on Friday and appears ready to go, barring a setback.

Also back at practice were running back Mike Tolbert (chest contusion) and wide receiver Jason Avant (hamstring). Both are expected to play.

Coach Ron Rivera said he's most concerned about starting wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (hamstring), who did not practice Friday and is listed as questionable. He said Cotchery ran on the treadmill in the pool and will be re-evaluated on Saturday.

Cotchery said he likely will be a game-time decision, adding he's not so much worried about playing against his former team as he is being ready for the long haul.

Rivera said no decision has been made on whether to bring a player up from the practice squad to take defensive end Greg Hardy's spot on the 53-man roster. Hardy on Wednesday was placed on the commissioner's exempt list until his domestic violence case is resolved.

The decision to use the spot will be determined by the injury situation. Rivera said running back Darrin Reaves or one of two wide receivers -- Stephen Hill or Marcus Lucas -- could be brought up.

Rivera also said there's a chance that spot is left open for defensive end Frank Alexander, who's set to return on Sept. 29 from a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers have shown they can handle adversity, winning their opener without starting quarterback Cam Newton and their second game without sack leader Greg Hardy and leading rusher DeAngelo Williams.

The distraction surrounding Hardy's legal issues, which came to a head on Wednesday when he was placed on the commissioner's exempt list until his domestic violence case is resolved, has to have an impact soon.

But I can't look past the fact Carolina leads the league in forced turnovers (6) and Pittsburgh hasn't forced one while committing four. I can't look past the Steelers are allowing 170 yards rushing a game against a team -- and a quarterback -- that wants to run.

I can't look past that Carolina's defense, even without Hardy, is playing better than it was at this time a year ago and perhaps better than it was at the end of the season.

Panthers 17, Steelers 13.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Wes Horton doesn't have a catchy nickname like Greg Hardy's, aka the Kraken, the player he and a platoon of others are replacing at right defensive end for the Carolina Panthers.

So let's give him one.

How about Gemini Jr.?

Before he began chasing quarterbacks, Horton chased his father around the original set of "American Gladiators," a television phenomenon that ran between 1989 and 1996 featuring amateur athletes against the show's gladiators in tests of agility and strength.

[+] EnlargeMichael Horton
Courtesy Wes HortonMichael Horton was Gemini, one of the six original "American Gladiators." Here, he holds his son Wes, left, a Panthers defensive end, and his son Shane, right, a linebacker with the Toronto Argonauts.
Michael Horton was one of the six original gladiators. He was known as Gemini, apparently fitting because of his split personality: calm one second, aggressive the next.

"It was a hot show," said Wes, who was born a year into the show. "[My dad] was kind of the man around town for a while. It was cool to play on the sets and travel around the country and do all kinds of crazy contests, throwing people around and being a big, strong guy."

Wes still throws people around, only now it's offensive tackles and running backs -- and an occasional quarterback. He got his first start in Sunday's 24-7 victory over Detroit after Hardy was placed on the inactive list.

With Hardy out indefinitely after going on the commissioner's exempt list until his domestic violence case is resolved, Horton will get more opportunities.

Next up is Pittsburgh for a Sunday night game at Bank of America Stadium.

"It's just going to come down to more snaps from all of us and being consistent with those snaps," said Wes, who will share the position with Mario Addison and Kony Ealy. "It's not enough to show flashes and have a big play here and move on to the next game.

"We've got to be impact players."

Wes' father was all about flash. From a tight red, white and blue spandex costume to swinging on ropes and tackling contestants, he was a muscle man's superhero.

"I can still get in the spandex very easily," said Michael, now a consultant on physical fitness in the Los Angeles area. "I'm in as good a shape now as I was then."

Wes isn't so sure about his father wearing spandex, but the being-in-shape part he won't deny.

"He trains me in the offseason," Wes said. "Pretty much every aspect of football, he shoots me advice. He's my No. 1 critic after games. I always call him and say, 'Pop, how'd I do?'"

Michael knows football. He spent nine years between the NFL, Canadian Football League and USFL before turning to television. While he never made it past what was then the taxi squad in the NFL, he always knew Wes would.

"He probably should have gotten drafted, but that's another deal in itself," Michael said of his 6-foot-5, 270-pound son, who was signed by Carolina as an undrafted free agent out of Southern Cal in May 2013. "He's on course to be a very good football player, and his work ethic will get him there."

Wes played mostly on first and second down against Detroit. He was the run-stopper, the player who did all the dirty work. Addison got the headlines with 2.5 sacks even though he played six fewer snaps (28).

Wes is OK with that, too, although he'd one day like to be an every-down player.

"Wherever they want to put me on the field, I'm more than willing to step in there and give it everything I have," said Wes, whose brother Shane is a linebacker for Toronto in the CFL.

In some respects, Wes is like his father. He's a gentle giant off the field. Then, when the whistle blows, he turns on the aggression.

But he wants to make one thing clear: He never dreamed of wearing spandex and being an America Gladiator. As much fun as he had playing on the Powerball, Swingshot and Eliminator on the show co-hosted by former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann, his goal was to be in the NFL.

Wes still could use a nickname, though.

Let's let his father pick one.

"Oh, gosh," Michael said. "He would probably say something easy like 'Terminator.'"

Can Cam Newton join Tier 1 QBs?

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19

NFL players are usually harsh graders when asked to rate their peers. Defensive ends and linebackers won't rate as highly unless they're three-down players. Defensive tackles must factor against run and pass alike. For quarterbacks, producing consistently from within the pocket trumps athletic ability.

The QB scouting report a veteran cornerback provided for the Pittsburgh-Carolina game on Sunday night leads naturally into an early-season checkup on the Panthers' Cam Newton. I had asked the veteran corner to rate each NFL starting quarterback on a 1-to-5 scale, with "1" reserved for the players he considered to be "Tier 1" players. When we got to Newton, the corner painted two quarterbacks with a single analytical brush.

I've combined those thoughts with input from NFL insiders and one of Newton's strongest supporters for a more complete look at where the QB stands and where he is headed in the future.

Peer review: Where Newton stands

Steelers vs. Panthers preview

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
The Carolina Panthers are 2-0 despite playing their opener without starting quarterback Cam Newton and their second game without Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy, who on Wednesday was placed on the commissioner's exempt list.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 1-1 after losing 26-6 to the Baltimore Ravens in prime time.

Carolina defeated the Steelers 10-0 in Pittsburgh in the preseason finale for both teams, when few starters were on the field. Now these teams will see how they match up for real. ESPN Panthers reporter David Newton and ESPN Steelers reporter Scott Brown are here to break this one down:

Newton: Scott, the Panthers have forced a league-best six turnovers in the first two games, and the Steelers haven't forced one. Pittsburgh also committed three against Baltimore. Do you see that being a big factor Sunday night?

Brown: Absolutely. The Steelers have to take care of the football against an opportunistic Panthers defense, and they have to start taking the ball away. It has been an issue the past three-plus seasons; the Steelers haven't won a playoff game since 2010 in large part because they have consistently lost the turnover battle.

The Steelers signed former Panthers free safety Mike Mitchell to give them a speedy playmaker on the back end of their defense, but he has not flashed in the first two games. I'm sure Mitchell would love nothing more than to make a couple of what Steelers coach Mike Tomlin calls splash plays Sunday night against his former team.

How is former Steelers receiver Jerricho Cotchery fitting in for the Panthers and how much of a positive influence has the 11th-year veteran been for promising rookie Kelvin Benjamin?

Newton: From a leadership standpoint, I'd have to give Cotchery an A. It's a much different climate on the field and in the locker room with Cotchery instead of Steve Smith, as you probably can imagine. Benjamin has all the physical tools at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds -- not to mention hands the size of a catcher's mitt. Having Cotchery and Jason Avant there to mentor him on how to block and handle not being a part of the play has been important. The improvement Benjamin made on the little things from Week 1 to 2 was noticeable.

There is not much Cotchery or anybody can teach Benjamin about catching, though. In each of the first two games, he has made the type of phenomenal catch Cotchery and Avant probably only dream about. I have to admit I was starting to get skeptical of what Cotchery would offer on the field after the preseason. But in the first two games he has eight receptions for 78 yards. He is a nice complement to Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen, who has been outstanding.

The Steelers have struggled to stop the run so far. The Panthers have struggled to run, and that is a big part of their game. What has been the problem on Pittsburgh's side?

Brown: Wait a second, here. Are you trying to tell me that Jonathan Stewart and De'Angelo Williams aren't Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier? Tomlin sure made them sound like a fabled running back tandem this week. And since no coach has ever employed hyperbole in talking up an upcoming opponent, I'm going to assume Carolina's problems running the ball are an aberration.

Seriously, whatever Carolina's struggles have been running the ball might simply be fixed by playing against a defense that always used to stuff the run. The Steelers haven't been good against the run since 2012, which was, not coincidentally, five-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton's final season with the team.

Hampton rarely lost ground while clogging the middle of the defense and often commanded double-teams. The Steelers' current defensive line has not consistently tied up blockers or maintained assigned gaps and, through two games, Pittsburgh has given up 170 rushing yards per game. The line simply has to start winning more battles up front for the run defense -- and the Steelers' defense as a whole -- to show significant improvement.

Cam Newton is a running threat. Does the Carolina quarterback gain most of his rushing yards after escaping a collapsing pocket, or will Carolina run some read-option with him?

Newton: What? No comparing Newton to Y.A. Tittle? Seriously, it's a combination of both, and the healthier Newton gets with his fractured ribs the more he will run. He took off for 13 yards Sunday on a read-option play that was similar to, if not exactly like, one coach Ron Rivera said his quarterback should have handed off on in practice to protect the ribs.

The left ankle that was surgically repaired in March still isn't completely healed, which might explain why Newton looked somewhat awkward at times running against the Lions. But what makes him a weapon is you don't know when he's going to take off, whether it's a scramble when the pocket collapses or the read-option. He also refuses to slide and protect himself, as we saw last week. If the Steelers are as bad as you say at stopping the run, I'm sure Newton will take a few shots at them with his legs.

What about Ben Roethlisberger? Is Big Ben still a quarterback who can carry a team?

Brown: He'd better be able to carry the Steelers because Roethlisberger is the biggest hope they have of returning to the playoffs after consecutive 8-8 seasons. I think he is still playing at a high level and I'm not ready raise serious concerns about Roethlisberger and the offense, although the Steelers have managed just nine points in their past six series. If the offensive line holds up, the Steelers are going to score points with the talent they have at the other skills positions, such as receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le'Veon Bell.

David, where are the Panthers vulnerable, and are you surprised by their 2-0 start?

Newton: I'll answer the second part first. Not really. I actually picked them to start 3-0. The defense really is as good as advertised, and I figured that would be enough at Tampa Bay and at home against Detroit. But I was surprised that Newton didn't play in the opener and that the offense played so well without him. I've been saying since early in organized team activities that Carolina is better at wide receiver than it was a year ago, and so far that group has proved me right.

As far as vulnerability, the lack of a running game has to be concerning. The Panthers want to control the clock and want to keep the pressure off of Newton having to run. Without a running game, that gets tough. It will also be interesting to see whether Hardy's situation ultimately becomes a distraction. So far, it appears to have galvanized the locker room.

Cam Newton: 'Sensei of Nicknames'

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Cam Newton has a new title.

"I just call myself the 'Sensei of Nicknames,'" the Carolina Panthers quarterback said on Thursday.

Newton found himself apologizing for the last nickname he made up. If you missed it, he jokingly referred to Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh as "Donkey Kong Suh" before Sunday's game against the Lions.

"If anything I was trying to say it as a compliment of him wreaking havoc," Newton said after the 24-7 victory. "Me going forward, I should have called him 'Wreck-it Ralph.'"

With the "Donkey Kong Suh" controversy behind him, Newton made sure he didn't deliver any potential insults to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who play the Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday night.

But he dished out plenty of nicknames he has derived for teammates.

"You ready?" Newton said when asked about the ones he's most proud of. "OK, here we go. We've got Joe Smo, obviously. We've got DA, Go Meister. We've got Tub of Goo. We've got Plate of Paste. We've got Chunky Soup. We've got Pinky. We've got Benji. We've got Schmoo. We've got Bando. We've got Rhino. We've got BBell. We've got Mauler. We've got Swoll Bones. We've got Ed, Edd and Eddy. We've got Mucus. We've got Javante. J-Co.

"Mucus is [practice-squad receiver] Marcus Lucas. If you mix them all together you get Mucus. Yeah, I take pride in having nicknames."

For fun, try and match the nickname with the Carolina player and send your response to me on Twitter at @DNewtonESPN. Those I'm unsure of I'll verify with the other Newton.

As for Newton's favorite nickname for himself after "Sensei of Nicknames"?

"Ace Boogie," the first pick of the 2011 draft said of the nickname he gave himself a couple of years go.

Newton obviously was in a good mood after Sunday's successful 2014 debut following an offseason hindered by ankle surgery in March and fractured ribs in August.

When asked if it was good psychologically for him to run for a first down the first time he kept on the read option, he said, "Just to see yourself get a first down, I think it does something to your swag, wouldn't you say?"

Add the "Sensei of Swag" too?

Too much.

The NFL Live crew make their picks for Pittsburgh at Carolina.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For much of the past two years -- even much of training camp this year -- Jonathan Stewart was the Carolina Panthers' running back that spent most of practice riding the stationary bicycle and working with the trainer.

Talk about role reversals.

On Wednesday, Stewart and practice squad player Darrin Reaves were the only healthy backs with DeAngelo Williams (thigh), Mike Tolbert (chest) and Fozzy Whittaker (thigh) unable to participate.

On Thursday, Tolbert returned on a limited basis, but Williams and Whittaker still were held out.

"Yesterday seemed like the roles switched," said Stewart, plagued by ankle injuries the past two seasons and a hamstring injury at the start of training camp. "Usually, I'm that guy on the bike."

While coach Ron Rivera was optimistic Williams would be available for Sunday night's prime time game against Pittsburgh, Tolbert remains a question mark.

Rivera said Tolbert still isn't in position to take a hit after taking a blow to the rib area during Sunday's 24-7 victory against Detroit. Tolbert called the hit from defensive tackle Nick Fairely the hardest he's taken in seven NFL seasons.

Rivera hasn't ruled out the possibility that Reaves could be brought up from the practice squad to fill defensive end Greg Hardy's roster spot.

The team's 2013 sack leader on Wednesday was placed on the commissioner's exempt list until his domestic violence case is resolved.

Rivera also didn't rule out calling up a wide receiver, Stephen Hill or Marcus Lucas, if a lingering thigh injury sidelines Jason Avant. Hill played the past two seasons with the New York Jets before being released.

Avant went from limited in Wednesday's practice to not participating.

Cam Newton: I feel for Greg Hardy

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Quarterback Cam Newton says the legal situation surrounding sack leader Greg Hardy won't be a distraction for the Carolina Panthers in Sunday night's prime-time game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Hardy on Wednesday was placed on the commissioner's exempt list until his domestic violence case is resolved. The earliest possible date for the 2013 Pro Bowl selection to return would be Nov. 17, when this appeal is scheduled to be heard by a jury.

"Distraction? I wouldn't say it's much of a distraction," Newton said Thursday. "You kind of, you [hurt] for a person [like] Greg who has done, in my opinion, every single thing that was asked of him to do.

"There's a lot of guys that feel for Greg, including myself. But we still have a job to do, and that's to put the best performance that we have had this whole season for Sunday night."

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he plans to talk to Hardy next week about returning to the facility and working out.

Under the terms of being placed on the exempt list, Hardy is allowed to be at the stadium and use the facilities but cannot practice or play in games. Rivera, as he said Wednesday, remains optimistic that Hardy will be back this season. If the trial is heard in mid-November -- Hardy's attorney has said it likely will be pushed into 2015 -- Hardy will miss at least the next nine games.

The only way to shorten that time span would be for Hardy to reach a plea bargain for the current charge of assault and threatening ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder -- or possibly a lesser charge -- and take a six-game suspension from the NFL without pay and return.

(Read full post)


ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando delivers stats to help you make a pick for Pittsburgh at Carolina.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Jerricho Cotchery covered his mouth in a somewhat embarrassed attempt to cover his laughter at the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that he is much calmer than former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith.

"Steve was one of my favorite players and still is," Cotchery finally said of Smith, a member of the Baltimore Ravens after being released by Carolina in March. "Just the way he plays, it's relentless. I saw him the other night against Pittsburgh, slapping his head, spit coming everywhere."

[+] EnlargeJerricho Cotchery
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackReceiver Jerricho Cotchery has been an ideal fit for the Panthers.
Cotchery doesn't spit when he gets excited -- on or off the field. He is so quiet in the locker room and on the field that you hardly notice he's there. When he wants to make a point he doesn't shout it across the room as Smith sometimes did.

These are all things the Panthers (2-0) liked when they signed Cotchery to a two-year, $5 million deal during the offseason. These are things the Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) miss about Cotchery as they prepare to face him on Sunday night at Bank of America Stadium.

"I miss everything, from on the field, his football play, his leadership, his awareness, his tenacity, his toughness, off the field having a leader, having a friend around," Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said during a Wednesday conference call.

"He was just such a great teammate and a player, one of the best I’ve ever played with."

Cotchery didn't draw big headlines when Carolina made him the first piece of the puzzle to replace Smith and the team's top four wide receivers from last season. Then 31, he hadn't put up gaudy receiving numbers since he had 71 catches with the New York Jets in 2008.

But the Panthers weren't looking for gaudy. They were looking for a consistent role player that would help develop young receivers such as first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin.

Cotchery has been that, and Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin isn't surprised.

"Cotchery is an easy guy to like," he said. "He’s a great teammate. He’ll do anything to help the team win, and he’s extremely low-maintenance. I just can’t say enough good, positive things about Jerricho and what he did for us when he was here."

Cotchery won't ever make the spectacular catches like the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Benjamin has in his first two games. But he has been consistent, catching four passes in each game for a combined 76 yards.

He has been a nice complement to Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen, who leads the team with 14 catches for 155 yards.

And a complement was all the Panthers were looking for.

Cotchery was just looking for a team to wrap up his career. He insists the only team he would have left Pittsburgh for was Carolina, about three hours from where he played college football and met his wife at N.C. State in Raleigh.

There really wasn't much of a choice based on Carolina's offer compared to Pittsburgh's. But Cotchery doesn't feel extra incentive to beat the Steelers because they weren't willing to pay more.

"My incentive is winning the Super Bowl," he said. "They know that over there."

Cotchery has fit in at Carolina from Day 1. Running back De'Angelo Williams nicknamed him "Unc" right away because he "looked like somebody's uncle."

Benjamin accepted Cotchery's guidance immediately.

"He listens," Cotchery said. "It's humbling to have a talented guy like that who can catch the ball and do really good things on the field, and he really listens to your advice. I credit him for that."

Credit the Panthers for signing Cotchery.