SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Veteran safety Donte Whitner has insisted all along that rookie Eric Reid possesses the skills and mentality to be a hard-hitting defender and fill the huge void left by Dashon Goldson's departure in free agency.
Apparently, coach Jim Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio agreed. They named Reid the NFC champion Niners' starter Tuesday at free safety for the Sept. 8 season opener against Green Bay at Candlestick Park.
And Reid, San Francisco's first-round draft pick in April, soon heard about the announcement from the media that he had earned a spot on one of the NFL's top defenses.
San Francisco traded up with Dallas to draft the speedy safety with the 18th pick out of Louisisana State, believing all along he would make an immediate impact as a rookie.
Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart will miss at least the first six weeks of the season while he recovers from an ankle injury.
Coach Ron Rivera said after practice Tuesday that Stewart was placed on the physically unable to perform list.
The team also put guard Edmund Kugbila, its fourth-round draft pick, on injured reserve with a knee injury and waived injured defensive tackle Frank Kearse and wide receiver Joe Adams, Carolina's fourth-round pick in 2012. Adams and Kearse will go back on injured reserve if they clear waivers.
NFL rules stipulate Stewart can't practice or play for six weeks.
Since the Panthers have a bye in week four, Stewart is eligible to play Oct. 20 against the St. Louis Rams, which would be Week 7 on the NFL calendar but would be Carolina's sixth game of the season.
"I'm just taking it day by day and trying to be there for my teammates and bring as much positive energy as I can," Stewart said. "We have a long season ahead of us and I plan to be back in week six."
Rivera is "very optimistic" Stewart could make it back for St. Louis game.
"Some real good things have happened but they aren't going to happen soon enough," Rivera said, adding doctors now believe the right ankle will take longer to heal. Rivera classified the injury as a sprain. Stewart hasn't practiced since offseason surgery on both ankles.
The decision likely means more playing time for DeAngelo Williams, the franchise's all-time leading rusher, and opens a roster spot for young running backs in Tauren Poole and Armond Smith. Carolina also drafted Kenjon Barner from Oregon in the sixth round and he's expected to contribute as a scat back.
Stewart is coming off a disappointing season a year ago, rushing for 336 yards and one touchdown, both career lows. He missed seven games in all, including the final five with a sprained ankle.
Miami Dolphins rookie linebacker Dion Jordan returned to practice Tuesday after being sidelined by a lingering shoulder injury, improving his chances of playing in the season opener next week.
"Physically, I felt good," he said. "Mostly it was a matter of brushing up on fundamentals."
Jordan, the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, suffered a setback early this month in his recovery from shoulder surgery last winter. He has missed the past two exhibition games and most of practice the past two weeks.
Coach Joe Philbin declined to say how limited Jordan was in practice Tuesday but gave the rookie a favorable review.
"He looked good," Philbin said. "He moved well and worked on some of the basic fundamentals and techniques."
When asked whether Jordan might play in the final exhibition game Thursday against the New Orleans Saints, Philbin said: "We'll see. I wouldn't rule anything out."
More likely is Jordan's return for the season opener Sept. 8 at Cleveland, although last week the former Oregon star said he wouldn't be surprised if he missed that game.
Jordan underwent surgery Feb. 28 for a torn labrum in his right shoulder.