Panthers excited about running game

The Carolina Panthers are feeling pretty good about their revamped running game, and who can blame them? Rookie Jonathan Stewart carried 10 times for 100 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown scamper, and third-year pro DeAngelo Williams added 101 yards on nine carries and broke loose for a 60-yard touchdown run in a 47-3 thrashing of Washington on Saturday night.

Both teams played their starters the entire first half (the Panthers played theirs one possession in the third quarter) and Carolina led 34-0 at halftime.

The question now becomes how the Panthers will divide up the carries and keep them happy. That isn't something the Panthers are fretting over right now.

There's no reason to.

The best thing about Williams and Stewart is neither seems to have an ego.

Maybe they're too young.

Maybe they respect each other.

Or maybe they're just good old-fashioned team guys.

But so far, there isn't any jealousy between them and they seem to have already bonded. After Stewart scored his first NFL preseason touchdown on Saturday night, Williams was one of the first to greet him coming off the field and they were laughing it up for a few minutes with fellow running back Decori Birmingham on the sidelines, smiling and laughing about the run.

Likewise, Stewart was there for Williams when he answered his long touchdown run on the very next series with an even longer scoring run up the gut.

"When I'm out of the game or when I'm in there, you really can't tell," Williams said. "The only thing that changes is the jersey number, 28 or 34. It keeps the defense on their heels, not only in the run game but in the passing game as well. Because if you're able to run the ball effectively, like coach (John) Fox always says, it's that much easier to pass the ball."

Williams is likely to open the season as the starter, if for no other reason than he's done nothing to lose the job. All he's done this preseason is average 7.2 yards per carry on 26 carries with three touchdowns.

But that doesn't mean he'll get the majority of carries.

At 5-foot-10 and 235 pounds, Stewart is believed to be the big back Fox craves.

But the idea that Williams is a "smaller" back is a farce. At 5-foot-9 and 217 pounds, Williams isn't built like a scat back and he's plenty big enough to handle the ball 20 times per game if called upon. You need look no further than his 20-carry, 121-yard, two-touchdown performance in last year's season finale against Tampa Bay for proof.

"We'll get to see the true DeAngelo this year," said quarterback Jake Delhomme. "I mean the last couple of years, let's be honest, we didn't get to see a true test. I think we're much better up front (on the offensive line) than we've been in awhile."

So which running back will be featured in the offense? The answer is simple -- both of them.

As for which guy will get the majority of carries, that could change with each passing week, depending on the opponent. While that may not be great news for Fantasy Football fans, Fox would be happy to have an effort every week like he got Saturday night.

"Both are explosive guys," Fox said. "DeAngelo got better from last year to this year as far as his maturation process, becoming more of a pro. Jonathan Stewart has been held back a little bit because of his toe. We've been very cautious with him. We threw him in there a little bit last week. I thought he made some strides. His confidence is starting to grow, and I thought he had a good outing."

Delhomme said splitting carries can benefit both backs.

"Honestly when you have two guys that can run like they can that's better for their bodies over the course of a season," Delhomme said. "You have to have a couple of guys. Certainly every game is not going to be like that, I know that. But when you have two guys that can pound it and hit it in there like they can and have that breakaway ability, it can only get better."

Fox made it pretty clear this offseason his goal is turn the Panthers into a dominant running team.

Although Williams averaged 5.0 yards per carry in a reserve role last season, the Panthers were far from one of the league's elite rushing teams.

But after three preseason games, they've shown some promise. The Panthers ran for 207 yards on 48 carries against Indianapolis, 78 yards on 28 carries against Philadelphia and 228 yards on 32 carries against Washington.

Saturday night was probably the most accurate reading so far given that the Redskins played their defensive starters for the entire first half.

"We've wanted to be able to run the ball for some time," Fox said. "We've had successful years in 2003 and '05. Getting Jake back in there helps us. Last year, it was a little bit tougher in the run game because people stacked the box because they didn't feel like we could throw the ball effectively. Hopefully that will be different this year."

Panther Insider Top Stories