CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Cam Newton is back in pads — dramatically oversized pads.
The Panthers two-time Pro Bowl quarterback returned to practice Monday wearing a long, bulky flak jacket designed to provide added protection for his healing fractured ribs.
Newton smiled and even stopped to pose for a picture before practice with his newly enhanced armor. He went through drills as normal with the first team offense and didn't appear to have any problems throwing the ball during the 20 minutes practice was open to the media.
Coach Ron Rivera reiterated that he expects Newton to play in the season opener Sunday at Tampa Bay.
It was the Newton's first practice since Aug. 22 when Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins stepped on his ribs during a preseason game.
Rivera said Newton worked out Saturday and the medical staff cleared him to practice Monday.
"He came out and pushed himself through another workout and did some good things and threw the ball well," Rivera said. "I'm very pleased with that."
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton took some good-natured ribbing from teammates as he walked out to the practice field with his oversized pads hanging below his red No. 1 practice jersey.
"I told him in the event of a water landing he could be used as a flotation device," center Ryan Kalil said with a grin. "He didn't think that was very funny."
Rivera said the equipment staff and trainers are still working on the best — and most comfortable— form of protection for Newton's ribs.
That is still a work in progress.
"He's wearing it to get used to it," Rivera said. "They're trying to find one that works best. He's tried several on and we'll see."
Newton didn't speak to reporters after practice.
Along with suffering a hairline fracture in his ribs, Newton is also dealing with pain in his ankle from offseason surgery.
"He's sore, but he's not like he was when it first happened," Rivera said.
Rivera said he's anxious to see how much soreness Newton has when he wakes up on Tuesday. The Panthers don't practice again until Wednesday.
Tight end Greg Olsen said it was good to have Newton back at practice heading into what will be a busy week of preparation for the Buccaneers. The Panthers have lost their last three season openers under Rivera.
"He looked good throwing and I thought he moved around pretty well," Olsen said. "He had his pads on they have him outfitted pretty good. Cam is a tough guy and he's a big strong dude. The team knows if there is any way for him to get out there and play at a high level, he will."
Newton has never missed a start in his three seasons with the Panthers.
However, the rib injury could limit Newton's effectiveness as a runner — which is one of the things that makes Newton so valuable. He's rushed for 2,032 yards and 28 touchdowns since coming into the league as the No. 1 overall pick in 2011.
"Cam is a fighter and a leader and there ain't nothing that is going to hold that guy back," said Panthers left tackle Byron Bell. "He looked good out there throwing the ball and calling plays and it looked like he hasn't lost a step. So we as an offensive line have to keep him upright against Tampa Bay and we should be fine."
In the event Newton suffers a setback or has to leave Sunday's game, the Panthers should have backup quarterback Derek Anderson at their disposal.
Anderson practiced Monday, three days after injuring his right hand during Carolina's preseason finale against Pittsburgh.
The Panthers also kept Joe Webb as a third quarterback.
Newton was named a team captain on Monday for the second straight year. Also voted captains were Olsen, Kalil, defensive end Charles Johnson and linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis.
NOTES: All 53 players on the roster were suited up for practice including Johnson, defensive end Greg Hardy and guard Trai Turner. ... Rivera said the Panthers worked out free agent wide receivers Stephen Hill from the Jets and Kadron Boone from the Eagles on Monday, but didn't sign either player.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL