Carolina Panthers Welcome Back Pro Bowlers Smith and Beason

The Carolina Panthers received some welcome news on Sunday when two of their Pro Bowl players returned to practice following lengthy layoffs from injuries.  Wide receiver Steve Smith and middle linebacker Jon Beason were back at work and both veterans are expected to be in the starting lineup when the Panthers open the regular season at Tampa Bay on Sept. 9.Smith had missed two weeks while recovering from a foot infection, while Beason had sat out for nearly a month after pulling a hamstring during training camp.Running back Jonathan Stewart remains out with the sprained ankle he suffered against the New York Jets on Aug. 26.Smith, the franchise leader in every major receiving category, has been to five Pro Bowls, including last season when he caught 79 passes for 1,394 yards and seven touchdowns.He said he wasn’t certain how he developed the infection, which caused swelling in his left foot and sidelined him for the team’s final two exhibition games. He had been resting at home and taking medicine for the infection, but wasn’t able to wear a shoe on his foot until Friday.Carolina coach Ron Rivera said Smith looked good lined up with the first-team offense.“It was good to have Steve back. Right off the bat he went back to his normal practice mode – 100 percent, all the time,” Rivera said. “So it was a lot of fun watching Steve back on the football field for sure.”Beason missed all four exhibition games for the second consecutive year after being sidelined out last year’s preseason while dealing with Achilles tendinitis, only to rupture the Achilles in the regular-season opener at Arizona.He underwent season-ending surgery the following week on his left Achilles. He participated in the first 12 days of training camp before tweaking his hamstring in the same leg.Beason , a three-time Pro Bowler, split reps on Sunday with Jason Phillips, who filled in for him during the exhibition schedule.“I feel great. I haven’t tested the hamstring at top-end speed, but I don’t feel it at all,” Beason said. “If I could put a number on it, I guess I’d say about 85 percent. But as we get closer here, there will be times at practice where I really get to open up and see how it feels.”