Carolina Panthers

The trait that can set fullback Alex Armah apart, even in stacked Panthers’ offense

Carolina Panthers fullback Alex Armah (40) primarily was a blocker for Cam Newton (1) his first two seasons with the team, but is excited about an expanded offensive role this year.
Carolina Panthers fullback Alex Armah (40) primarily was a blocker for Cam Newton (1) his first two seasons with the team, but is excited about an expanded offensive role this year. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

In two professional seasons, here are the career receiving stats for Carolina Panthers fullback Alex Armah:

One catch, five yards — and the catch came in the team’s meaningless Week 17 win over the New Orleans Saints last year.

And yet, during spring workouts, you never would have known. First with backup quarterbacks Will Grier and Taylor Heinicke, and later with Cam Newton, Armah was flying all over the field running pass routes. Most were out of the backfield, but then Armah would turn upfield and reel in 25-yard pass after 25-yard pass.

Of course, given the team’s litany of skill-position players, nobody is expecting Armah to suddenly become a No. 1 passing target. Young receivers D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel showed breakout flashes last season, and running back Christian McCaffrey remains an offensive centerpiece. Add in Torrey Smith and Jarius Wright, tight ends Greg Olsen and Ian Thomas, and there are more targets than a quarterback has throws.

But Armah, who is entering his third year with the team after being a 2017 sixth-round pick from West Georgia, knows that. He also knows his role in this offense, even somewhat expanded as a pass-catcher, is rooted in something more fundamental.

“I want to be known as an accountable guy, who when you turn on the tape, you see him doing his job every time,” Armah told the Observer during minicamp in June. “Coaches count on me to do my job, that type of deal — that’s what kind of guy I want to be.”

Not that the team doesn’t already. Coach Ron Rivera noted Armah’s route-running during minicamp, but also alluded to his importance in the team’s running game.

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“Well the biggest thing is, when you do have to have a bigger back in there to protect, Alex has obviously got to be able to handle that portion of it,” Rivera said. “So again, he’ll continue to get his work and his development and we’ll see how he does out there.”

At 6-foot-2 and 255 pounds, Armah’s primary role in Carolina up to now has been paving holes for McCaffrey in the run game. That became especially important when the team added Norv Turner as offensive coordinator last season, given Turner’s proclivity for using a fullback. Other than two short touchdown runs last season — including one on his first ever carry against Dallas in Week 1 — arguably Armah’s most notable play was a killer block he threw in the preseason that made way for a 71-yard McCaffrey touchdown.

His blocking figures to be at least as important early this season as Carolina sorts out its rebuilt offensive line. That includes two new faces — center Matt Paradis and rookie left tackle Greg Little — and former right tackle Daryl Williams shifting to left guard.

“Whatever they ask me to do, I try to do 100 percent,” he said. “(Now we need) a known, able blocker that’s gonna dominate his block.”

Armah will still see situational use as a rusher, as was the case last season. But adding pass-catching duties to his blocking responsibilities is something that excites him. Armah already has some experience with running routes from his time playing tight end in college.

“It’s been fun, you know what I’m saying? Working on different crafts, expanding my knowledge of our playbook and really understanding our offense,” Armah said. “I’m comfortable with it.”

Whatever Armah is asked to do — pass protect for Newton, run block from McCaffrey, rush the ball himself or even fly out as a receiver — he’s willing to do it.

That all goes back to being trustworthy and holding himself accountable.

“You want to see improvement from Year 1 to Year 2, and then Year 2 to Year 3,” Armah said. “That’s how you increase your role in this offense.”

Brendan Marks is a general assignment sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR and more. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked for the Observer since August 2017.
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