DeAngelo Williams (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)
When the Carolina Panthers released DeShaun Foster a few months ago, it seemed for a while that DeAngelo Williams would become the featured back. But Williams' starting role is very much up in the air.
The Panthers drafted Jonathan Stewart in the first round (13th overall) and only a fool wouldn't think the Panthers are looking for early returns on their forthcoming financial investment.
Don't count out Stewart getting plenty of carries this season, whether it be as a starter or in a backup role to Williams.
But the decision to draft Stewart isn't so much about a lack of faith in Williams, who averaged a very solid 5.0 yards per carry last season, as it is coach John Fox wanting a solid two-back system.
That is Fox's way.
Williams is taking it all in stride.
"No, I wasn't upset at all," Williams said of the team's decision to draft Stewart. "This is the National Football League and every year there will be always be another back, another quarterback, another wide receiver or another offensive lineman. They just reload in this league."
Besides, Williams figures there are plenty of carries to go around, especially with the team's focus supposedly being on running the football this season.
Last year, Foster carried 247 times; Williams 144. Williams would like that number to grow this year, but said he can't be worried about the numbers.
"I still have the same mindset whether I'm the starter or not the starter," Williams said. "Everybody is going to the two-back system, so whether he starts the game off or I start the game off, we'll both get the same amount of carries give or take a few. Having the opportunity to play the game period is important to him and me."
Fox said he expects both Williams and Stewart to be a big part of the offense, although he gave no indication as to who'll start. That's a little tough anyway since Stewart is still recovering from turf toe surgery and won't be available until July.
"I think we've been one of the first to have the tandem deal, starting back in 2003," Fox said. "It helps to have a change of pace guy. A lot of people are wanting to do that now. We want to full-suit ourselves. We knew we needed a running back this offseason, we just felt the best avenue for us was through the draft and not free agency, and hopefully we've accomplished that."
However, the Panthers weren't as balanced as many think in 2003.
Stephen Davis got the bulk of the carries (318) over Foster (113). It was a little more balanced when they last went to the playoffs in 2005 with Foster getting 205, Davis 180.
Regardless, the Panthers want to be a team that runs the ball 500 times this season, so under a perfect scenario they'd probably both get 225-plus carries.
If they're able to achieve that, chances are they'll win more games than they lose.
"I guess it will come down to training camp, not necessarily who will have the better training camp but if I can take most of the load or he can take most of the load or divide it evenly, but I'm sure they will do a good job of doing that," said Williams, who has been running with the first team while Stewart is out.
Although he doesn't necessarily see it as paramount, Fox likes the idea of having two backs with different styles.
At 5-foot-10, 235 pounds, Stewart is considered the power back, while Williams (5-9, 217) is more of the big-play type.
"It is kind of a change of pace if they are different styles," Fox said. "The key is you've got to get yards. There's a lot of ways to get yards, that's the key thing. You've got 11 guys out there trying to get one guy, and that takes its toll through the season. So from a freshness standpoint, it's nice to have that second guy even if they are similar styles."
Give Williams credit. When he appeared to be given the featured back spot after the release of Foster, he could have gone from being on top of the world to a big-time pouter. He hasn't.
"It will be fun," Williams said. "I'm not going to hold hard feelings toward anybody because that is not the way you play this game. It's we, not me."