Patience is the motto among Panthers' running backs

jjones@charlotteobserver.comOctober 31, 2013 

Panthers coach Ron Rivera has voiced confidence in DeAngelo Williams in recent weeks, saying the franchise’s all-time leading rusher has been, is, and will continue to be the starting running back for Carolina.

Williams said on Thursday he wasn’t even aware of his coach’s proclamation.

With the franchise’s second all-time leading rusher Jonathan Stewart planning to make his return Sunday against Atlanta, there could be a log-jam in the backfield. But Rivera has said unequivocally that Williams is the starter.

“It’d mean a lot to anybody to say, ‘Hey we’ve got faith in you, we believe in you,’” Rivera. “Early on this season through seven games he’s taken the bulk of the shots. This will be a great opportunity to integrate somebody else, take a little bit of the pressure off of him and we’ll see how things go down the stretch. Obviously we’re hoping that it is a playoff run.”

Carolina is set to have Williams, Stewart, fullback Mike Tolbert and rookie running back Kenjon Barner on the 53-man active roster, all of whom will be looking for touches.

Barner said Stewart has been preaching patience since Barner joined the team, and patience seems to be the motto among the running backs.

“As long as we just keep winning. That’s what it all boils down to is winning,” said Williams, who was benched after five games last season in favor of Stewart.

“I don’t see a change at all. We’re clicking on all cylinders and having Jonathan back adds to those cylinders. I don’t see it as a negative but I guess some people can see it that way.”

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said there hasn’t been a fear of having too many chefs in the kitchen for the Panthers’ backfield. Instead, it’s about each player making the most of his opportunities.

Williams is 10th in the NFL with 477 rushing yards and one touchdown. But Williams, who has been battling a bruised quad all week and is expected to practice Friday, hasn’t rushed for more than 64 yards in a game since Week 3’s 120-yard performance against the Giants.

Williams has frequently used the refrain “all about winning” recently. After the Tampa Bay game last week in which he had just eight rushes, Williams said he “respected the game plan.”

The Panthers have had only two 1,000-yard rushers not named Williams or Stewart – Anthony Johnson in 1996 and Stephen Davis in 2003 – but Williams said he doesn’t have his eye on his first 1,000-yard season since 2009.

“If it takes me rushing for 1,000 yards to win football games and make it to the playoffs, then yeah let’s do it. I’m all for it,” Williams said. “But if they don’t translate into winning football games and winning the championship then I can pass on that.”

Take away quarterback Cam Newton’s 50 rushes this season and the Panthers average 25.4 rushing plays per game, with Williams getting 16.3 of those.

Last year, Stewart averaged just more than 10 carries per game in a season shortened by ankle injuries.

Left guard Travelle Wharton said he’s looking forward to seeing Stewart’s blend of speed and power.

“I don’t think you can ever have too many good backs,” Wharton said. “The season is so long, you don’t want to wear a guy out. You want to share the load. Those guys have a great room. They’re able to mesh and they root for each other.”

The running backs’ close relationship was evident in the locker room on Thursday. While Williams talked to reporters, Tolbert moved reporters’ recorders closer to Williams’ mouth. Eventually, Williams paused the interview to tell Tolbert to stop.

“And when are you going to get a haircut?” Williams asked Tolbert.

“I’m not,” Tolbert responded. “No-shave November.”

“It ain’t even November yet,” Williams fired back. “You can shave right now!”

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

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