Shelton out to prove he belongs

Running back Eric Shelton may be Carolina's forgotten man. "I'm out to prove all of the haters and doubters wrong," Shelton said at the team's first day of mini-camp on Friday. Haters, no. But doubters -- yes, there are plenty. And why not?

The Panthers re-signed starter DeShaun Foster to a three-year, $15 million contract this off-season and then used a first-round draft pick on Memphis running back DeAngelo Williams last weekend. The popular thinking is that between Foster and Williams, that doesn't leave a whole lot of carries for Shelton, a second-round pick in 2005.

But Panthers coach John Fox isn't quite ready to go that far.

"That's only perception," Fox said. "We try to increase the talent level on this team at every position we can. We're firm believers that competition brings out the best in players, so we are still far away from perception at this point."

There are questions about Shelton, notably whether or not he can recognize defensive fronts.

"If you don't understand defensive fronts, then you don't know who to pick up," running backs coach Jim Skipper said of Shelton, who had trouble with that last year in training camp.

"If you make an error in pass protection, that's a major, major critical error. First, you can get somebody injured, and second, you can lose a game with a turnover. So you have to be dead solid perfect."

Shelton compares his rookie year in the NFL to being a "redshirt freshman" at Louisville.

But he said being in team meetings and on the practice field every day last season watching his teammates helped give him a better understanding of what Skipper was trying to teach him. Now Shelton is eager to put that knowledge to the test.

"I felt really comfortable out there and there aren't any plays I don't know," Shelton said after the Monday's first practice.

It took Shelton only about six weeks to recover from his ankle injury last season -- one that required no surgery -- and he said he could have played more than 75 percent of the season had the Panthers not put him on the shelf.

With so much free time on his hands, Shelton hit the weight room and added about five pounds of muscle mass. He now weighs 250 pounds. Some of his teammates jokingly asked him if he's trying to mold himself into fullback.

"I worked out twice as much as anybody else," he said.

Shelton said he's heard the rumblings in the media about the Panthers not having much faith in him and that bothers him some because "everywhere I've been, I've been great."

He still has a shot to be great.

Given Carolina's injury problems at running back the last two seasons, it seems unlikely the team would cut ties with Shelton. Even if that were to happen, he wouldn't have many problems catching on somewhere else given that he was a second-round pick.

But for now, Shelton is eager to prove to Fox, Skipper and the rest of the coaching staff that he can be a reliable back when called upon.

So he said it didn't bother him at all when the team spent a first-round pick on Williams.

"It's not about where you get picked, it's about what you do on the field," Shelton said. "You can have the number one pick in the draft and if he doesn't do what he supposed to do then there will be somebody else will be there to replace him. It's just like me. If I don't do what I'm supposed to do, somebody will be there to replace me."

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