Will the running game get back on track?

Barring any last minute setbacks, Carolina Panthers starting Running Back Stephen Davis plans on testing out his knee tomorrow when the team resumes practice for their game this Sunday against the Denver Broncos.<br><br> "That's my plan. To get out there and see how it feels and hopefully, we won't have any setbacks." Davis told the media Monday. "I don't want to rush it. I've just got to do whatever I can to go out there and practice on Wednesday and see how I feel then."<br><br>

Davis had some cartilage repaired in his knee on September 17, and has not practiced with the team since then. Davis has carried the ball just 9 times for 26 yards this season so far, averaging 2.9 yards per carry, and no touchdowns. 2.9 yards per carry is way down from his 2003 average of 4.5 yards per carry, and his career average of 4.2 yards per carry.

Davis has only played in one regular season game this season, a game in which the Panthers were forced to pass more in an attempt to cut a second half Green Bay lead. Also contributing to his low average is the fact that the Panthers rotated several different Offensive Linemen into the mix throughout the game. Without a cohesive line, Green Bay effectively stopped the run and Carolina was forced to the air.

Davis was optimistic Monday that he'd play on Sunday though. "Everything is going good right now, but we'll have to take one game at time. I don't want to rush it. I'm just going to try do whatever I can and see how I feel Wednesday."

In Davis' absence the Panthers are 1-1. Davis' replacement, Running Back DeShaun Foster, has been hot and cold. In week 2 against the Kansas City Chiefs, Foster rushed for 174 yards on 32 carries, averaged 5.4 yards per carry, and had 1 touchdown. In week 3, Foster ran 19 times for only 51 yards and 1 touchdown, averaging only 2.7 yards per carry. Foster has 237 yards rushing on 54 carries, 2 touchdowns, and averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Foster also has had 7 catches for 76 yards in the 3 games the Panthers have played this season.

Panthers Head Coach John Fox was asked Monday about his running game. "We didn't execute as well as I think we're capable of in the run game. A little bit of that is sometimes controlled by the defense, so you have to give some credit to the opponent," Fox said. "But it is something that we need to continue to improve at."

When asked specifically about DeShaun Foster having 17 carries for 0 or negative yardage in the last two games, Fox added, "I am not going to be critical of his run ability. I think what he has done and accomplished has been good enough for us to win."

Although Fox would never acknowledge it, reading into those statements, and added to the fact that the Panthers have ran 90% of their running plays to the left side of the line behind Left Tackle Jordan Gross and Left Guard Tutan Reyes, one would be led to believe that Fox and the staff are not happy with the Offensive Line situation. The pass blocking of the line has been adequate the last 3 games, however, they are not opening the rushing lanes like the 2003 line did that allowed Stephen Davis to break several team rushing records.

With Davis back in the lineup, the Panthers will be able to keep Foster and Davis fresh to maximize their Rushing attack.

The return of Bruce Nelson is expected to help the Run game immensely. Nelson was slated to be one of the starting guards at the onset of training camp, but a hip injury (torn labrum*) landed him on the PUP list. Nelson is allowed to start practicing in two weeks, but it will probably be a few more weeks until he's ready to contribute. Nelson will be a welcomed addition to the line, as he is one of the more faster and agile linemen the Panthers have, and will be a huge upgrade over G Doug Brzezinksi and Rich Tylski. The fact that Nelson is able to pull and get to his blocks quickly could allow the Panthers running game to return to form for the latter half of the season.

* The hip socket has a rim of rubbery fibrocartilage called the labrum. The labrum acts as a gasket, sealing in fluid and helping to deepen the socket. For more information about hip injuries, visit HSS.EDU

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