Panthers replacing Shelton? Not so fast

With all the recent talk suggesting that the Panthers will take a running back early in this weekend's draft, one player still wonders where he sits with the team.

Eric Shelton was drafted in the second round of the 2005 NFL draft with the idea that he would be the Panthers' short yardage back; an idea that was shared between the front office, the fans and Shelton himself.

"I'm a north - south runner," Shelton said. "I'm going to get yards after contact, and when you're in those short yardage situations I'm going to get it for you."

It's hard to argue with him. A 6' 3", 245 lb. running back that runs a 4.5 40 yard dash is a battering-ram. However, the knock on Shelton coming out of preseason was that he hadn't picked up the blocking schemes, and the common perception was that the Panthers stashed him on the IR in order for him to both give him more time to learn and save themselves the embarrassment of cutting their second round pick.

"A lot of things mentally I got straightened out during the season that I didn't understand before the season, just from basically growing up and learning the offense," Shelton admitted. "I did a lot of learning defensive schemes and blitzes. I really worked on my hips and my explosion."

Shelton says he never got an official explanation why he was placed on IR, despite having an injury that would only keep him out a few weeks. He was frustrated and angry that he didn't have a chance to learn and compete on the field.

"The most disappointing thing last year was watching a lot of other guys who came out in the draft play while I sat," said Shelton. "That hurt me emotionally and mentally to be in that situation after playing my whole life. The Panthers and I both know what I can do."

Shelton Led the Cardinals in rushing in 2004, gaining 938 yards on 146 carries (a 6.4 ypc average) and notching 20 touchdowns in the process, despite splitting time with two other backs and being in a prolific passing offense. In comparison, LenDale White (a rumored panther first-round target) gained 1,302 yards on 197 carries (a 6.6 ypc average) and 24 touchdowns in 2005 while splitting time with Reggie Bush at USC. When Shelton entered the game, the other team knew that he would be running he ball up the gut right at them. Shelton caught only 6 passes in his final year at Louisville.

"I had no opportunities to catch passes," explained Shelton. "That's an area I have worked on as well. I was basically just a straight ahead runner. I'm 250 pounds, I'm not going to be running a lot of routes and I'm not going to be running around the edge. I'm always going to be a straight ahead runner."

He's heard the scuttle-butt that the Panthers will take a running back early in the draft this weekend, and Shelton is taking it in stride. "It's just a part of the business," he said. "If they feel they need a RB, they'll take a RB. I really don't have any control over that."

The Panthers may take a running back, but not because of anything Shelton didn't do. Despite signing a new deal in the offseason, the deal with DeShaun Foster is structured so that they can cut him and save some money after the upcoming season if he fails to deliver. The Panthers would love to have another back to groom to replace Foster if this scenario unfolds. Shelton isn't going to be a take-it-to-the-house game-breaker on each carry, so it's beneficial to have one to compliment his plowing, bull-dozing style.

After all, the Panthers know what happens when you run out of quality running backs.

Read our full interview with Eric Shelton HERE.

PantherInsider writer Matt Edwards contributed to this article

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