banged-up backfield

Could this be happening again? The Panthers' backfield is beginning to look like the M.A.S.H. unit it resembled a year ago, with their top three backs banged up and questionable for Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions.

On Wednesday, starting tailback Stephen Davis, backup DeShaun Foster and fullback Brad Hoover all missed practice and coach John Fox listed all three as questionable on the team's injury report. Also, third-string running back Rod Smart is doubtful for Sunday's game with a groin injury.

That leaves the Panthers with only two healthy running backs on the 53-man roster - backup fullback Nick Goings and fourth-string running back Jamal Robertson. The Panthers were so thin at running back they signed Alex Haynes from Central Florida to the practice squad on Wednesday just to give them another body at practice.

It's not uncommon for Davis to sit out the first practice of the week leading up to a game since coming back from microfracture knee surgery, but it was surprising to see Foster's name added to the injury report since Fox made no mention of him when asked at Monday's press conference if there were any injuries.

Davis and Foster are battling knee injuries, while Hoover has a bad shoulder.

In typical Fox fashion, he refused to elaborate on any of the injuries and none of injured players were available for comment at the team's open locker room session on Wednesday.

However, Fox cautioned that it's too early in the week to rule anyone out.

"It's early in the week and it's not a mystery in this league that it's a pretty physical game and (the backs) get banged around," Fox said. "We have a pretty good group of running backs and we have a couple of them healthy in Nick Goings and Jamal Robertson and we'll see who we have healthy as we move forward."

While it would seem unlikely that all three backs would sit on Sunday, there's no doubt the team is hoping either Davis or Foster can make it back for Sunday and then take advantage of having next week off because of a bye.

The injury situation is mildly reminiscent of last year when the Panthers lost four running backs to season-ending injuries.

However, the Panthers seem better equipped to handle it this season.

If Davis and Foster can't go, there will be no hesitation for offensive coordinator Dan Henning to give the ball to Goings, who recorded five 100-yard rushing games in the final seven weeks last season and led the team in rushing with 821 yards and six rushing touchdowns. This year Goings has returned to his role as a valuable special teams player, but has been more of an afterthought on offense with just 2 yards on two carries and three receptions for 31 yards. Robertson rushed for 71 yards on 16 carries last season.

If Goings starts, the team could go with more one-back sets or possibly shift one of their tight ends to fullback for Sunday's game. Goings is technically listed as the team's second-string fullback, but rarely is he used as a straight-ahead ram-style blocker like Hoover.

"When you keep your 53-man roster you pick all of the guys you know you can play," Fox said. "Last year Nick Goings stepped in and Jamal Robertson did at one point, too."

Goings said he'll be up to the task if called upon.

The injuries come at a time when the Panthers could use a boost in the running game. They rank 20th in the league in rushing yards per game at 96.9 and 28th in yards per carry at 3.3.

This would seem to be a good week to get back on track since the Lions defense has struggled against the run, allowing 115.3 yards per game and 4.3 yards per carry.

Instead of trying to hold out for more money or forcing a trade, Goings agreed to return to a backup role when he returned to the Panthers this season. It's a decision that has earned him big points as a team player with the coaching staff and the front office.

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