By STEVE REE, AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Panthers coach Ron Rivera says wide receiver Steve Smith and linebacker Jon Beason are expected to play in the Sept. 9 regular season opener against Tampa Bay after returning to practice.
However, Rivera isn't sure about running back Jonathan Stewart, who remains out with a sprained ankle.
Smith missed the last two preseason games with what the team announced as a left foot infection. Beason didn't participate in any of the preseason games after injuring his hamstring early in training camp. Both Smith and Beason say they're feeling better and plan to be on the field next Sunday.
Smith and Beason were captains last year and are considered key cogs for the Panthers (No. 20 in the AP Pro32).
Smith has played in five Pro Bowls and Beason three.