CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers got mixed news about their injuries Thursday. Linebackers Dan Morgan and Mark Fields both returned to practice, but rookie running back DeShaun Foster suffered another setback.
Foster has yet to play this year. He sustained cartilage damage and a bone bruise in his left knee in an August preseason game, and was originally supposed to miss four weeks.
His absence stretched on through the first seven games, although Carolina (3-4) hoped he would make his season debut Sunday against Tampa Bay (5-2).
But Foster was downgraded to doubtful and left Carolina's stadium to have another examination of his knee.
"He hasn't come along quite as we had hoped and we're just re-evaluating what his status will be," coach John Fox said. "I think he had some discomfort there and there was a little bit of swelling there."
The Foster setback spoiled what was a lighthearted day for the Panthers, who got Fields and Morgan back on the field for the first time in over a week. Both linebackers missed last week's loss to Atlanta with groin injuries.
Fields marked his return by placing a singing James Brown doll in his locker that belted out "I Feel Good" while it swiveled and danced.
"I had to bring it because that's how I'm feeling," Fields said. "I needed something to pick me up and it's working. It's like my mojo's back."
Fields said several players had stopped to play the doll, as did Fox, who walked away smiling.
"I figured it must be working when I saw Foxy touch it," Fields said. "He was laughing, so I knew it must be good."
Morgan's mood wasn't as bright, partly because he wasn't 100 percent on the practice field and figured his playing status would be a gameday decision.
"I feel like there's a good chance I'm going to play," Morgan said. "It feels a lot better than it did, but it's sore, and I'm just taking it day by day. When you get a pulled muscle it takes awhile for it to get better."
With the Panthers off next week, there's been some thought about holding back players like Morgan to give them longer to heal.
That could be what's happening with Foster. Carolina has tried not to rush him because he's expected to be valuable in the future. Taken with their first draft pick in the second round, the Panthers thought Foster would challenge Lamar Smith for the starting spot and help jump-start their running game.
"He's a guy we were excited about, we wanted to run the ball, so the position is critical and it's unfortunate that he got injured," Fox said. "Really, we've got to do what's best for him longterm and what's best for us longterm.
Also, the Panthers had no update on quarterback Chris Weinke, who suffered a serious concussion last week and is questionable for Tampa Bay. Randy Fasani, a rookie, has been practicing all week as if he will start.
"Chris is fine physically, it's not a matter of something being injured and he can't move or throw the ball or anything of that nature," Fox said. "But they're concerned if he takes another shot in the head, which is always a possibility at the quarterback position."
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