Cam Newton works with first team

CHARLOTTE, N.C. --Carolina Pantherscoach Ron Rivera said Thursday that quarterbackCam Newtonis on target to start Sunday's game against theCleveland Browns.

"We did more with him today than we did with him yesterday," Rivera said of Thursday's practice. "We'll increase that tomorrow, then double-check him on Saturday morning."

Rivera said he is surprised at how far Newton has come since suffering two small fractures in his lower back in a two-vehicle crash near Bank of America Stadium nine days ago. Barring a setback, he said Newton would be in the lineup against the Browns.

Rivera said the biggest factor remains Newton's ability to protect himself in terms of keeping a play alive and avoiding sacks. In terms of that, Rivera said he's comfortable with what he's seen so far.

"So far, yes," he said.

Rivera also is encouraged that Newton slid in his last appearance against New Orleans instead of his usual head-first dive. He hopes that continues for the long-term health of his quarterback, who has been hit more than twice as many times as any other quarterback since entering the league in 2011.

Rivera added that he doesn't believe Newton is miscommunicating his condition in order to play when he says he's not feeling pain.

"First of all, he's not going to show any sign of weakness," Rivera said. "It's funny, we always ask him to really be up front. He just smiled. But he is [being truthful]. He's trying to help us, help me make the right decision as we go forward."

Newton showed no restrictions in his movement Thursday. He continued to show good zip on his passes, at one point overshooting wide receiver Philly Brown more than 60 yards away.

Backup Derek Anderson took second-team snaps during the first 20 minutes of practice open to the media after taking first-team snaps during that span Wednesday. Anderson is 2-0 as a starter this season, with both wins coming against Tampa Bay. He spent five seasons with the Browns, earning his only Pro Bowl berth there in 2007 when he was 10-5 as a starter.

The Panthers (5-8-1) remain in the hunt for the NFC South title and a playoff spot with New Orleans (6-8) and Atlanta (5-9). They need to win their final two games, coupled with a Saints loss, to win the division for the second straight year.

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