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Delhomme back at practice after surgery

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Jake Delhomme threw passes Friday as the Carolina Panthers opened minicamp, but the team's two first-round draft picks and last season's leading tackler sat out with injuries.

Delhomme, who is coming off Tommy John surgery on his right elbow last year, practiced for the first time since last September. The quarterback threw 34 mostly short-to-midrange passes during individual drills in the morning session, though nothing longer than about 25 yards. He hasn't thrown any deep "go routes" quite yet, but has thrown some fade routes where he has to get some air under the ball.

"It feels great," he said. "The rehab has gone great. We have been cautious and haven't had any setbacks. I was very satisfied today."

He won't participate in team drills until June at the earliest, but coach John Fox said Delhomme is expected to be ready for training camp.

"This isn't the first time I've seen him," Fox said. "I have the luxury of seeing him every day. It's something we feel good about, his rehab and him coming back full strength."

The Panthers are confident enough Delhomme will provide a boost to an offense that finished 29th in the league that they didn't sign a veteran quarterback or draft one last weekend. He was off to his best start in 2007 with eight touchdown passes and one interception before being injured in Week 3.

"Jake's a big part of our offense, no question," Fox said. "I think that was evident last year. He's out here, he's throwing, the surgery's gone fine and his rehab's gone fine. He actually looks bigger and stronger than he has in the past. He's had time to work on that."

First-round picks Jonathan Stewart, a running back from Oregon, and Jeff Otah, an offensive tackle from Pittsburgh, didn't participate Friday. Stewart is nursing a turf toe injury and likely won't practice until training camp, while the team is being cautious with Otah to ensure he's fully recovered from a high ankle sprain. He should be ready to go in June.

They're part of an offensive overhaul that includes bringing back Muhsin Muhammad and signing D.J. Hackett to help Steve Smith at receiver. Muhammad opened minicamp running with the first-team offense, where he had 16 touchdown catches in 2004.

"The day we got Moose back, that was huge," Delhomme said. "And not for what he did in the past, but for what he brings -- the way he works, the way he blocks and these young guys can learn from that. When you have two guys that work the way him and Steve (Smith) work, it can only help. He brings a presence. Linebackers are going to know, hey, No. 87 is back. He'll block you."

NOTES: Linebacker Jon Beason, who led the team with 160 tackles last season, had his arm in a sling on Friday following surgery to repair a tendon in his wrist. Fox said he should be back in June. ... The Panthers have decided to give Julius Peppers a shot at playing right defensive end after six seasons on the left end. However, Fox said nothing is set in stone.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.

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