Scott Fowler

Surprise Carolina Panthers star for Week 1? Maybe Cameron Artis-Payne

Carolina Panthers rookie running back Cameron Artis-Payne (34) might not have much of a leash from the start. Limiting veteran Jonathan Stewart to about 15 carries to keep him healthy could give Artis-Payne some early touches.
Carolina Panthers rookie running back Cameron Artis-Payne (34) might not have much of a leash from the start. Limiting veteran Jonathan Stewart to about 15 carries to keep him healthy could give Artis-Payne some early touches. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

If you are a Carolina Panthers fan looking for a breakout star in Week 1 at Jacksonville, I just might have your guy: Cameron Artis-Payne.

Artis-Payne has established himself as Jonathan Stewart’s primary backup at tailback. The rookie has the burst you would expect from a player who rushed for 1,608 yards at Auburn last season. He wears No. 34, which was DeAngelo Williams’ old number, and he darts around a little like Williams as well.

When I asked Ron Rivera this past week if he could foresee Stewart getting 25 carries per game this season, Rivera dismissed that idea. He said more like 15 carries per game for Stewart would be ideal. The Panthers are well aware of his injury history – he missed 20 of a possible 48 games from 2012-14 because of various injuries – and want to keep him healthy.

When Carolina closed last season (including the playoffs) with a 5-1 record, Stewart carried the ball at least 20 times in four of those six games and ran for at least 120 yards three times. But if the Panthers are truly serious about keeping his carries to around 15, then Artis-Payne may be getting 6-8 carries per game right from the start.

▪  For some reason this quote really made me laugh. Kawann Short said he was glad it was hot this week as the Panthers prepared to play in Jacksonville. “Big ups to the weather that was here,” Short said. I’m sure the weather appreciated the shout-out.

▪  Have you noticed that the Panthers’ secondary has gotten old again? With the addition of Charles Tillman and Kurt Coleman into the starting lineup, the Panthers starter with the least experience is also that unit’s best player – fourth-year cornerback Josh Norman.

▪  Prediction time. Jacksonville went 3-13 last season and while I’m sure the Jaguars are better, you couldn’t ask for a much easier opener if you are Carolina. Lose this one and this could be a long season. My pick: Carolina 24, Jacksonville 13.

Fowler: 704-358-5140; Twitter: @scott_fowler

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