The Carolina Panthers lost their offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski over the offseason and have since replaced him with quarterbacks coach Mike Shula. Shula has instilled a more traditional pro offense that focuses on I-formation power running and counters with play-action passing.
Though this more conservative approach has successfully reduced turnovers by young franchise quarterback Cam Newton, it has also stagnated the offense and prevented it from putting up adequate points. One player does benefit from this new pared-down scheme, though, and he isn’t one you might expect.
DeAngelo Williams hasn’t been the Pro Bowl back he once was over the past few years, but that may be about to change. It may only be two games into the season, but Williams is quietly fifth in the league in rushing yards with 171, 66 behind league leader LeSean McCoy. Shula’s conservative scheme has turned Newton into more of a game manager than a playmaker, leaving Williams to be the focal point of the offense.
Shula’s power run scheme fits perfectly with Williams’ skill, even if it might not click with other players. Williams is best classified as a slasher, a back who is equally fast and powerful and also has outstanding vision. Williams doesn’t have the speed of Kenjon Barner or the power of Mike Tolbert, but he has enough of each to be a versatile and dangerous back.
Williams best quality is of course his vision, which allows him to see small holes in the interior and exploit them where other backs would just lower their heads.
Most of Shula’s run plays are between the tackles, either in a single-back set or I-formation. It’s important that Williams gets decent yards on these runs so that defenders start creeping into the box, leaving them vulnerable to the play-action pass. His exceptional interior vision and agility allow him to turn two- or three-yard gains into five- or six-yard gains, squeezing into tight spaces and dodging defenders in the hole with his patented jump-cut.
Williams vision is a big reason why he has a career 4.9 yards-per-carry average, because he consistently gets small chunks. He hasn’t flashed his big play potential in recent years, which is why his value has been depleted, but his consistency will be key for the Panthers this years.
While his lack of touchdowns will hurt his bid for the Pro Bowl, he is still on pace for nearly 1,400 yards, his highest total since his breakout 2008 season.