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Panthers could be without starting SS Harris for season opener

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers starting strong safety Chris Harris missed practice Thursday with a sore left knee, putting his availability for the season opener in jeopardy.

Panthers coach John Fox said Harris was kicked in the knee a day earlier, forcing him to leave practice early. Harris had his leg wrapped as he watched Thursday's workout and didn't speak to reporters. Fox provided no timetable for Harris' return.

Quinton Teal likely would replace Harris if he can't play Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Harris' injury comes as the Panthers were getting healthy at other spots.

Linebacker Jon Beason and running back Jonathan Stewart practiced for a second consecutive day and are expected to play against the Eagles. Beason sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee on Aug. 22. Stewart missed most of the preseason with pain in his left Achilles' tendon.

"I'm probably the one who's the most excited than anybody in the locker room," running back DeAngelo Williams said of Stewart's return.

Last season, Williams and Stewart combined for 2,351 rushing yards, the most by teammates in the NFL in 24 years.

The one position that remains unfilled is punt returner. Fox wouldn't rule out using four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith there in Sunday's game.

Kenny Moore and Captain Munnerlyn had trouble holding onto punts during the preseason. This week, the Panthers attempted to sign Mark Jones, who returned kicks for them last season, but he failed his physical.

Smith seemed less than thrilled, saying he cracked a rib while returning a punt against the Washington Redskins in 2006.

"I have to do what I'm asked to do sometimes whether I like it or not," Smith said. "It's not really my call to say if I prefer it or not. I'm here to play football, and this is what I grew up to play.

"I'll try to do the best job I possibly can wherever I'm lined up."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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