Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera mentioned to the press he was hopeful about the return of running back Jonathan Stewart. So far, Stewart has shown great signs of improvement since his ankle surgery this past offseason. Stewart has already worked lightly at practice and can be cleared to resume training as early as later in this week. However, the Panthers have three weeks to decide if they want Stewart to return fully to practice and another three weeks to decide if they want to add him back to the active roster.
Stewart was drafted in 2008 out of Oregon University. In his second year with the Panthers, Stewart and teammate DeAngelo Williams set a record for both players rushing over 1,000 yards. Since then, his production slightly decreased but remained consistent until 2012 where he received several injuries that kept him out half of the season. Williams and Stewart is a great pair of running backs. The opposing defense never gets a rest because both players can pound the ball into the line or break outside for a long run. Both players also have solid ball security.
With Stewart starting the 2013 season on the ‘Physically Unable to Perform’ list, the Panthers had to manage with Williams taking the majority of the carries. Behind him is Mike Tolbert, aka the Bowling Ball. These players have really found their niche on the team. Williams gets 75 percent of the carries and the yards and Tolbert gets the hard earned short yardage. The Panthers are currently eighth in the league for average rushing yards per game. With Stewart coming back in the lineup late in the season, expect the run game to get even better.
The Panthers are still looking at about five to six weeks before Stewart would consider putting on pads and playing in a game. However if he does return, expect him to take some load off of Williams and potentially move Tolbert back to the fullback position. Stewart is a more physical back than Williams, but coming off the injury, Tolbert will still be expected to see the short yardage plays and get the carries in the red zone. However, the Panthers will be grateful to have Stewart back in the lineup sooner rather than later.