Bennett could be a factor

he Panthers added some depth to their backfield on Tuesday by signing free agent running back Brandon Bennett, a move that coincides with the team's decision to place running back DeShaun Foster on injured reserve.<br><br> Key Matchups, Injury Impact, Game Plan and More Inside!<br><br>

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Panthers added some depth to their backfield on Tuesday by signing free agent running back Brandon Bennett, a move that coincides with the team's decision to place running back DeShaun Foster on injured reserve.

The 5-foot-11, 220-pound had worked out for the Panthers a couple of weeks ago, but they did not sign him at the time, instead electing to bring Joey Harris off the practice squad.

At this point, it's unclear where Bennett would fit into the offense, especially with the uncertainty surrounding the injury to Stephen Davis. It's more likely, at least early on, that Bennett would be more involved in the team's return game on special teams.

Fullback Brad Hoover carried 24 times for 99 yards in Sunday's 17-6 loss to the San Diego Chargers.

Bennett has played in 74 games with two starts in five NFL seasons, all with the Cincinnati Bengals.

He has rushed for 1,127 yards and five touchdowns on 306 attempts and has recorded 90 receptions for 756 yards and one touchdown. Bennett could also provide some depth on special teams since he also returns kicks.

He's returned 109 kickoffs for 2,498 yards and one touchdown during his career.

A year ago, Bennett, 31, appeared in all 16 contests for the Bengals and led the team's running backs with career highs of 25 catches and 176 receiving yards with one touchdown. He also contributed 173 yards rushing on 56 carries while playing behind Corey Dillon and Rudi Johnson.

In 2002, Bennett ranked fourth in the AFC with a 25.1-yard kickoff return average and established a Cincinnati single-game record with 228 kickoff-return yards at Baltimore, including a 94-yarder for a touchdown.

He signed with Tampa Bay as an unrestricted free agent during the offseason but was released before the start of the regular season. He has been out of football since late August.

Bennett originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent with Cleveland in 1995 and spent time on Chicago's practice squad in 1995 and Miami's practice squad in 1996 before earning a roster spot with Cincinnati in 1998.

Bennett attended the University of South Carolina where he became just the third player in school history to lead the Gamecocks in rushing four consecutive seasons and ranked as the school's all-time receptions leader among running backs with 107 catches for 968 yards.

--RB Stephen Davis will not play this week against the Seahawks as his knee continues to be a problem. Davis is not expected to need surgery but will require rest.

--RB Rod Smart is out again this week with a knee injury.

--RB Brandon Bennett could see some action in the return game this week.

--WR Steve Smith was officially placed on IR on Wednesday, ending his season.

--RB DeShaun Foster was placed on IR on Monday.

--CB Eddie Jackson was signed off the practice squad on Wednesday, taking the roster spot of Steve Smith.

--LG Travelle Wharton is likely to hold on to his starting job after a solid performance last week.

--OG Tutan Reyes is listed as probable this week with an ankle injury and could come back to replace Doug Brzezinski at right guard. The Panthers want to keep the rookie Wharton at left guard.

--FS Travares Tillman is listed as questionable with a forearm injury. He is expected to split time with Colin Branch if he plays this week.

--DT Omari Jordan might be up this week after missing the last two games with an ankle injury. Jordan is listed as probable and did practice on Wednesday.

GAME PLAN:

Survive. The Panthers have almost no downfield passing game, as evidenced by last week's effort in which the Jake Delhomme threw 36 times with his longest completion going for 16 yards. So you can expect the Panthers to keep it on the ground, playing a lot of smash-mouth football with fullback Brad Hoover getting the bulk of the carries. Defensively, the Panthers will look to take a page from the Arizona Cardinals playbook. They pressured Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck into four turnovers.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

--RB Shawn Alexander vs. Panthers front seven -- Carolina has played better on defense against the run in recent weeks but will face a big challenge this Sunday in Alexander, who is in dire need of a big game.

INJURY IMPACT:

With Stephen Davis out this week, fullback Brad Hoover is expected to get the majority of carries again this week for the Panthers, but probably not as many as he got last week.

The Panthers might look to lighten the load for Hoover, who carried 24 times for 99 yards Sunday against the San Diego Chargers.

Hoover, in fact, admitted taking more reps at fullback on Wednesday than he did last week. He said that he would do whatever is asked of him.

"We definitely have to take the load off of him," coach John Fox said. "He can't carry it every play, just like DeShaun (Foster) or Stephen (Davis) couldn't carry it every play if they were healthy. You've got to spread it around because they take a pounding in there."

That means Joey Harris, Nick Goings or newcomer Brandon Bennett could see a few more carries this week. Goings carried four times this past week and Harris twice.

"Those are guys who are going to lighten the load on Brad, but he will still have that role (of primary ballcarrier)," Fox said.


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