CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Panthers coach Ron Rivera says he expects five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith will return to practice Sunday and play in the Sept. 9 season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Rivera says Smith is ``improving'' after developing a foot infection earlier in the week.
Smith, who didn't practice, is among several key players sitting out Thursday night's preseason finale against the Steelers. Linebacker Jon Beason, offensive tackle Jordan Gross, running back Jonathan Stewart and fullback Mike Tolbert are also out. Rivera isn't ruling anyone out at this point for the season opener.
Rivera says his starters will see ``minimal'' action against the Steelers, if they play at all.
The Panthers (No. 20 in the AP Pro32) trim their roster to 53 players on Friday.