3 Yards and a Cloud of Dust

John Fox just loves to run the football. He would much rather grind away a game and win it in the fourth quarter than air it out and have his quarterback pass for 300 yards every game. That's why the running game or more specifically, the running back position for the Carolina Panthers is so important.

Last season, a rash of early injuries forced the Panthers to go deep into their roster, even drafting free agents to fill voids. This upcoming season, barring any injury setbacks, should be a great opportunity for the Panthers to get back on track with their game plan.

As Forrest Gump once said, "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." The same can be applied to the Panthers running back. Stephen Davis was hampered early last year but a nagging knee injury that quickly forced him to the sidelines and caused him to have micro fracture surgery to repair the damaged knee. As you recall, micro fracture surgery is the same surgery that caused Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis and Atlanta Falcons running back Jamal Anderson to end their careers. However, Panther running back DeShaun Foster had the same surgery with success. Davis will probably begin the season on the PUP (physically to play) list, give it a shot but not really be able to participate at full strength for the season. Look for this to be the last year for Stephen Davis in a Panther uniform.

DeShaun Foster showed promise at the start of last year's season, but out almost 200 yards in the Kansas City game. But a fluke collar bone injury put Foster up on the shelf and created even more concern in many eyes about the durability of this 3rd season back. However, the good news for Panther fans and the motivating factor for Foster is Foster is in a contract year. It has been shown that players tend to do better during a contract year in hopes of landing either a contract extension or that lucrative long term high money contract offer. Regardless of how Foster performs this season, this is a do-or-die season for Foster in a Panthers uniform.

The most intriguing prospect at running back this year for the Panthers is newly drafted running back Eric Shelton. Shelton, a 6-1, 246 pound bruiser out of the University of Louisville provides a similar type of running style as that of Stephen Davis. Although Shelton has girth, his large frame was still able to run a 4.5 at the combines. The only question that most scouts have about Shelton is his ability to catch in the backfield. Those questions were put to rest at the combines where Shelton caught every ball thrown to him. Shelton may need a year to develop into the Panthers system, but shows promise as the heir replacement to Davis.

Finally, we cannot forget about Rod "He Hate Me" Smart. Smart, used primarily at special teams, went down with an injury to his knee last year during the Green Bay game. He hopes to regain some swagger and have his on field success grow as much as his off-field afro. Look for Smart to remain in the fourth position behind Davis, Foster and Shelton but who will continue to contribute in special teams.

Overall, the Panthers backfield hopes that the injury bug will pass by them this year and will start to dominate their opponent's one cloud of dust at a time. Fox hopes that with the addition of key components to both the backfield and the offensive line, the Panthers will be running away with another title this year.

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