Jonathan Stewart, star running back for the Carolina Panthers, signed a monster deal at the beginning of August for five years valued at $36.5 million, $22.5 million of which is guaranteed. Thus, when Stewart went down right before the half during Sunday night’s preseason game against the New York Jets, a proverbial gasp was let out by Panthers fans familiar with key players sustaining injury early in the year.
Stewart’s ankle situation from Sunday not only terrified fans, but it also had to have sent shock throughout an entire coaching staff, knowing how crucial his productivity on the ground will be for the team’s overall success. In fact, Stewart will be leaned on more this season due in large part because of possible growing pains for second year quarterback Cam Newton.
Reports indicated that X-rays came back negative on the running back’s ankle, but that still doesn’t bring much comfort for fans who saw the franchise’s second all-time leading rusher being carted back to the locker room prior to halftime. To make matters worse, it happened during an all but meaningless preseason game.
For now, Stewart is listed as questionable and will sit out of Thursday night’s preseason-ending game with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Panthers fans are hopeful he will be ready to go come Sept. 9, when the team heads south to face off against division rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Similar situations occurred last year in Carolina on the defensive side of the ball that proved dreadful for an already weak defense. The Panthers ranked 28th in the league last year on defense allowing 6,042 total yards, primarily because they endured early season ending injuries to linebackers Thomas Davis and Jon Beason.
Beason, the league’s highest-paid middle linebacker coming into last season, suffered a left Achilles injury in the season opener against the Arizona Cardinals, one that kept him away from action for the remainder of 2011. Davis, who apparently can hurt himself while tying his own shoe, re-tore his right ACL for the third time since 2009 last season in week two at home against the Green Bay Packers.
On Sunday, Davis registered a sack and appears to be ready to go in the Panthers’ opener. However, Beason now has issues with his left hamstring and did not see any playing time during the Panthers’ dress rehearsal with the Jets. Both players’ health will be key this year if the Panthers hope to improve at all on defense. With rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly expected to play a significant amount at the position, the Panthers will need all of the veteran leadership they can get for a linebacking core that was short-handed and challenged all of last year.
With the season set to kick off next week, eyes and ears will surely be focused on the state of affairs over Carolina’s ever growing injury bug. Panthers fans can only hope for the epidemic to pass if a magical season is to be played out in the Queen City.