Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart exited the game against San Francisco on the third drive after totaling 16 yards on seven touches with a hamstring injury. Fozzy Whittaker came in on relief and had himself a fine afternoon.
The fifth-year back had 108 yards all last season, but in Sunday’s 46-27 win, he totaled 100 yards on the ground on 16 carries. Whittaker also hauled in three of four targets for 31 yards.
At 5-foot-10 202 pounds, the Texas product is more of a change-of-pace option, but boy did he look good against the 49ers. He had a long run of 25 yards and a long catch of 24.
He also had runs of eight and 19 yards, but most of his work came in the first half as San Francisco slowed him down in the second half.
Stewart is reportedly going to miss one to two weeks per head coach Ron Rivera.
Tight end Greg Olsen is a key part of the offense as a receiver and in-line blocker, he was confident that the rushing attack can continue to flourish even without Stewart.
“In this league people don’t feel sorry for you. Injuries happen, as we saw on the fly with Fozzy. The next guy’s got to be ready,” Olsen told the Charlotte Observer. “You’ve got to go and Fozzy did a great job. We’ll get (Artis-Payne) some reps this week and get him ready to go. And obviously Tolbert. We’ve got some guys that can fill in and hopefully get Stew back quick.”
Cameron Artis-Payne is in his second season, but he has yet to appear in a game this year after playing in seven as a rookie. He is a similar back in size to Whittaker at 5-foot-10, but he has so much power at 220 pounds.
Using Whittaker with Artis-Payne and Tolbert wouldn’t be a bad trio considering quarterback and reigning MVP Cam Newton can make plays often with his legs.
The Panthers have enough to hold down the fort until Stewart gets back and if that means going to the air a bit more, so be it. Slant passes and short routes can be their friend. Having a strong running game is always the heartbeat of Carolina’s offense, but they are built to win games regardless of who is in the backfield.Whittaker hasn’t done much in the NFL besides last week, Artis-Payne is still searching for his confidence, but Tolbert has shown time and time again that he can be the muscle guy who can and will make plays. Especially down near the goal line, look for Tobert to get some looks in Week 3.
The running back by committee approach may not be ideal in the NFL, but the Panthers do have the pieces to make it work. Carolina is built to run early and often in games and Newton has been in this position before. The Panthers will be okay and this could be the chance of a lifetime for Whittaker, a relative unknown at this point in his career. Stewart doesn’t have much left in his NFL life, but Whittaker and Artis-Payne certainly do.
The Panthers will have a tough home matchup against Minnesota, a very ferocious defense next Sunday afternoon.