01/08/2014 08:46 PM
Wide receiver Steve Smith jumped right in with the first-team offense running routes for the Carolina Panthers on Wednesday.
Running back Jonathan Stewart jumped right into the mix in the backfield.
It was Smith's first full practice since spraining his left knee in the first quarter of a Dec. 22 home game against the New Orleans Saints. It was Stewart's first full practice since spraining his knee in a Dec. 8 game at New Orleans.
Both are expected to play in Sunday's NFC playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers.
"Probably wasn't as good as I had hoped, but it was pretty good,'' Smith said after practice. "The weather was a little cold so the ground was a little hard. Other than that, it was pretty good.''
Smith said physically he is fine. He just has to overcome the mental aspect of being hurt and regaining confidence in the knee.
"Confidence is getting better,'' said the team's all-time leading receiver. "It's always good to be repping with the first team and running routes, getting familiar and catching the ball. I feel very comfortable with that, and hopefully tomorrow I will feel better.''
Tight end Greg Olsen was glad to see Smith back, understanding just how important he is to the Carolina passing game.
"He really sets the coverage for us when Steve's out there,'' Olsen said. "It's important. He's our main guy. It's no secret, for 13 years our passing game of where it's gone through.''
Smith was listed as limited in practice, as was defensive tackle Colin Cole (calf).
"He wasn't that limited,'' coach Ron Rivera said of Smith. "Probably the biggest thing was we really wanted to get him out there and have him running around, so we limited the number of reps he was out. But for the most part moving around, I thought he looked pretty good.''
Tight end Ben Hartsock (knee), safety Quintin Mikell (thumb) and Stewart all were listed as full participation. Rivera expects all will be ready for the 49ers, although he said it was too early to predict how Stewart would be worked into the backfield rotation with DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert.
"It felt good,'' Stewart said of his knee. "Like I am definitely getting back in the groove. I felt pretty good.''