Panthers won't rush Shelton

The Carolina Panthers are a little down on second-round draft pick Eric Shelton. Shelton is only averaging 2.8 yards per carry in the preseason, but the big problem has been his inability to learn defensive fronts, thus making him a liability in pass protection.

In fact, when the Panthers fell behind to Cleveland in Friday night's preseason game and were forced to throw, Shelton was taken out of the game because the team didn't want to risk getting backup quarterback Chris Weinke hurt.

"He's still playing hesitation football and he's not sure of what he's doing," Panthers running backs coach Jim Skipper said late last week. "That's where everybody is different. Some people can catch on the first time you say it. Other guys, it takes more reps to understand it. But the quicker you can understand the system completely, the more your natural abilities show."

Skipper said Shelton has made progress at training camp, particularly in the past two days, but added there is still plenty of work to do.

"If you don't understand defensive fronts, then you don't know who to pick up," Skipper said. "If you make an error in pass protection, that's a major, major critical error. One, you can get somebody injured, and two, you can lose a game with a turnover. So you have to be dead solid perfect on."

And that means every time, not just most of the time.

"It's like running a stop sign. At four o'clock in the morning, you might get away with it. But at the peak of traffic, you can't run that stop sign or you will get killed," Skipper said.

Said Shelton: "I'm a rookie at running back, so they have to feel comfortable with me in there protecting the QB. Up until then, I will keep working to do that."

And until Shelton completely understands defensive fronts and blitz pickup, expect him to continue working with the second- and third-team offense.

In all three preseason games, Shelton has been the fifth running back into the game for the Panthers, behind DeShaun Foster, Nick Goings, Rod Smart and Jamal Robertson.

Shelton has yet to play in the first half of any preseason game.

The Panthers believe Shelton is a bright kid and that he'll catch on fairly soon. Given that he's a second-round draft pick and the Panthers have a considerable amount of money invested in him, Shelton is a lock to make the 53-man roster.

However, unless he continues to improve on picking up blitzes in pass protection, don't be surprised if Shelton is a regular on the weekly inactive list when the regular season arrives.

"Coming in, I knew it was deep here at running back," Shelton said. "The only thing I'm trying to do is improve my game all around until I feel that the coaches feel real positive about me being in there as far as everything -- pass protection, routes, running the ball. As long as they feel comfortable and I feel comfortable, the more reps I will get."

Because they have so much depth at running back, the Panthers don't need to rush Shelton. But clearly they'd like to have another power back ready to step in and play in case Stephen Davis isn't ready for the season opener.

"I feel like they brought me here for a reason. And they are going to use me in that area. It's just that I haven't found out what area that is yet," Shelton said.

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