CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Derek Anderson is preparing as if he will start at quarterback for the Panthers against the Bucs in the game scheduled for Monday night with Cam Newton in the league's concussion protocol.
Anderson took reps with the first-team offense for the second straight day Thursday while Newton was absent from the outdoor practice.
Coach Ron Rivera had no update on Newton's status, saying he wouldn't make a decision on the league's 2015 MVP until later this week.
"We are not forcing players to get onto the football field," Rivera said emphatically. "We will do exactly as the protocol tells us and what the doctors and experts tell us."
The NFL is investigating how the Panthers handled a helmet-to-helmet hit Newton took in the fourth quarter of a Week 1 loss to the Broncos. Newton stayed in and completed the game despite a ferocious blow to the head. The league had no update on that investigation, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.
Newton was one of six starters who didn't practice Thursday.
Running back Jonathan Stewart (hamstring), left tackle Michael Oher (concussion), defensive end Charles Johnson (quad), linebacker Thomas Davis (hamstring) and cornerback James Bradberry (foot) also sat out. Six other starters, including wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., were limited in practice as injuries continue to mount for the struggling Panthers (1-3).
The Panthers have "absolute confidence" in Anderson should he be pressed into a starting role, Rivera said.
Anderson is 20-25 as an NFL starter, but 2-0 since joining the Panthers six years ago. Both of those wins came against the Bucs in 2014.
"He's done a great job for us," Rivera said. "He's been here the whole time and has been very steady. And guys have confidence in him as well, and that's very important."
Rivera said the game plan wouldn't change if Anderson starts, though he joked he probably would elect to hand the ball off more when it comes to running the read option.
Newton has struggled this season with only six touchdown passes and five interceptions in four starts. He has been sacked 13 times.
Newton left Sunday's game against Atlanta in the fourth quarter when he took a hit from linebacker Deion Jones on a two-point conversion run. Anderson relieved Newton and threw two touchdown passes to get Carolina back in the game. However, two costly interceptions of Anderson in the closing minutes, and the defense's inability to get a stop, were costly in the 48-33 loss.
The Panthers face the Saints a week from Sunday and then have a bye, so it's possible they could err on the side of caution and keep the franchise quarterback out until Oct. 30.
"If I do end up playing, I want to prepare and not let my teammates down," Anderson said. "I know the expectations are high and the bar has been set here. … We still have a lot of good football players in this room, and we can turn this thing around."
If Anderson starts, look for him to key on tight end Greg Olsen.
Olsen caught 18 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown in the two games Anderson started against Tampa Bay in 2014. The duo also hooked up for a touchdown and a two-point conversion last week against the Falcons.
"He's probably better than a lot of starters in this league," Olsen said of Anderson. "We're happy to have him and lucky to have him."