Jonathan Stewart hadn’t played or practiced since Nov. 26 2012 when he injured his right ankle against Philadelphia.

So here he was Tuesday out of the jailhouse (Stewart’s term) and onto the field. Coach Ron Rivera said something about Stewart’s “fresh legs” and players responded by offering Stewart a standing ovation.

Was the ovation kind of sarcastic?

“It was sarcastic” Rivera says.

Despite practicing Stewart remains on the Physically Unable to Perform list. He was eligible to play Sunday against St. Louis but his ankle refused to comply.

Stewart won’t play Thursday against Tampa Bay. If the ankle holds he’ll return Nov. 3 against Atlanta.

The jailhouse is where Stewart has been. Teammates prepare for the next game. Stewart runs and pulls sleds.

“We call it the jailhouse because you’re in confinement dedicated to rehabilitation” says Stewart 26.

And now you’re back in society.

“And now I’m back in society” Stewart says.

Fans have long wanted Stewart freed. He’s 5-10 and 235 pounds runs hard breaks tackles and catches passes. While injured he remained one of the guys still a member of the fraternity.

But he wasn’t.

“You’re not going through the blood sweat and tears the practices and the game time” says Stewart. “Of course you’re part of the team. (But) I can only encourage I can only support my teammates in the meeting room and stuff like that. So that’s the only disconnect you feel.”

Another disconnect: Stewart won’t start. He had supplanted Williams as the starter last season. But when he went down Williams thrived. Williams is the NFL’s 11th leading rusher this season and will continue to start.

Fullback Mike Tolbert who was ignored last season has found a role as a short-yardage power runner and blocker and scorer. With three touchdowns he’s tied for the team lead with Steve Smith.

Tolbert also leads the Panthers in dances. As Stewart talks to reporters Tuesday Tolbert does a touchdown dance behind them trying to make Stewart left.

So if Williams and Tolbert start and Stewart gives Williams an occasional break where does rookie Kenjon Barner fit? Barner who had sprained his foot also is healthy again.

“There’s still a role for Kenjon” says Rivera. “There’s some things he does that neither of the other two guys do.”