DeAngelo Williams among NFL’s top rushers in Panthers’ post-Rob Chudzinski era

jjones@charlotteobserver.comSeptember 26, 2013 

Through three weeks of the regular season, only two running backs have more rushing yards than DeAngelo Williams.

LeSean McCoy leads the way with 395, and behind him is Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin with 297. Williams sits third with 291 yards.

He said he wasn’t even aware until media members informed him.

“I don’t keep up with all that,” Williams said. “Nah, I don’t keep up with none of that. I’m trying to play my role and do my job here. All the stats and all that stuff, must be a down year for running backs.”

The numbers are vintage Williams: The 291 yards on 62 carries with an average of 4.7 per carry has him on pace for 1,255 yards this season as he rests this bye week. That’d be his most since 2008, and more than 500 yards better than what he did last year.

What’s the difference?

“I’m going to let everybody else figure that out. I know but I’m not going to start anything or push anything out there,” Williams said. “I can say this though – different offensive coordinator. I can definitely say that. The last offensive coordinator got rid of his starting running back. So you tell me what the difference is in 2013 versus 2012.”

Williams is referring to former Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who is now in his first year as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, which traded former third overall pick Trent Richardson to the Colts last week.

That Williams was disgruntled with Chudzinski last year was an open secret that the running back didn’t address. Williams was benched after five games for Jonathan Stewart, and Williams finished the year with 737 yards, his lowest total in a full season since 2007.

But Williams’ comments this week made it twice this season that he’s aired his grievances with the former coordinator.

“I feel like Chud is in Cleveland, and we’re going to keep it that way,” Williams said earlier this month.

There’s also the fact that he’s Carolina’s only viable option at running back. Stewart, who was placed on the physically unable to perform list before the season, isn’t eligible to return until Week7. And rookie running back Kenjon Barner has practiced just twice this season after battling a foot sprain, though he’s targeting a return for Week 5.

Quarterback Cam Newton is on pace to rush for 200 fewer yards than last season, and fullback Mike Tolbert has 53 yards on 19 touches this year.

When Mike Shula was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator this offseason, Williams asked Shula’s thoughts on running the football.

“I just told him we're going to keep balanced, try to take the things that we've been doing good and keep building on those,” Shula said. “Talked to him about the importance for us to be able to run the football and what it means, not just for our offense but for Cam.”

The Panthers placed a renewed emphasis on their rushing attack during the second half of last season, and in the last five games of the season Williams rushed for 445 yards compared to the 292 yards in the first 11 games.

Williams finished the season with a franchise- and career-high 210-yard performance at New Orleans, and he picked up this season where he left off in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

He began the season with an 86-yard game against Seattle, and followed that up with 85 yards in Buffalo. Those two marks would have been the third and fourth-best rushing totals for Williams in 2012.

Ron Rivera said Williams probably would have hit the century mark in both of those games had the Panthers been able to hold on to the ball down the stretch, inevitably salting the games away by handing it off to Williams.

His 23-carry, 120-yard game Sunday in the 38-0 blowout of New York harkened back to the Williams of old, and there could be more to come. Three of the Panthers’ next four opponents (St. Louis, Minnesota and Tampa Bay) have defenses that have allowed an average of at least 105 rushing yards per game.

“He’s just hitting the hole hard. When he’s going, he knows where he wants to go. He hits that crease, it’s one cut and he lowers his shoulders and goes,” Rivera said. “There’s not a lot of dancing. He’s very decisive. He’s got great vision right now.

“When a running back’s in a rhythm and has great vision at the time, he’s going to see a crease, stick that foot in the ground and go vertical. He’s not going to go side to side. A lot of his runs are not over here are not over here hitting this crease and all of a sudden coming all the way back and cutting back. It’s, I’m over here, I see the crease, I’m downhill, I go and I take my seven, eight, nine yards in a chunk. If it becomes more, great.”

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9

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