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Rivera: WR Smith, RB Stewart to return Wednesday

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Panthers coach Ron Rivera says he expects wide receiver Steve Smith, running back Jonathan Stewart and defensive tackle Colin Cole will return to practice on Wednesday.

Rivera remained optimistic Friday that all three players will be ready for Carolina's divisional playoff game on Jan. 12 against an opponent to be determined. All three sat out Carolina's Week 17 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

Rivera isn't sure about the status of backup tight end Ben Hartsock, who re-aggravated a knee injury against the Falcons.

The coach says Smith, the franchise's all-time leader in receptions and touchdowns, has been running inside on the treadmill and in the pool inside the building. Smith sprained a knee ligament in a Week 16 win over New Orleans.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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