Even with Cam Newton at quarterback, the Carolina Panthers are going to have to look long and hard for offense this coming NFL season. In Sunday night’s preseason win over the Kansas City Chiefs, veteran running back Jonathan Stewart showed that part of the answer to the Panthers’ offensive puzzle is a familiar face who has been there all along.
With the face of the franchise, wide receiver Steve Smith, now gone to Baltimore, and very little experience returning at that position, Newton is going to have to use his arm to create new stars. Either that or he’s going to have to rely on his own legs and familiar faces like Stewart if the Panthers offense is going to do enough to complement its solid defense enough to make the Panthers a success in 2014.
On Sunday, Stewart showed that he was still very capable. He scored on touchdown runs of two and three yards, also adding a 17-yard long run for good measure, as the Panthers beat the Chiefs, 28-16. Stewart was the 13th overall pick by the Panthers in the 2008 NFL Draft out of Oregon, and for a couple years, he paired with DeAngelo Williams to give Carolina one of the most dangerous backfield combinations in the NFL.
Those days are probably gone, even though both are still with the team. Mike Tolbert has come to Carolina and taken a good share of the load, and Fozzy Whitaker, who came to the Panthers from Cleveland, led the way tonight with 71 yards on 13 carries. But in key situations in the second quarter near the goal line, it was Stewart who got the call and he delivered twice. This could be a valuable role for him as, despite his lack of height (5-foot-10), his 235-pound frame makes him hard to tackle solo.
The Panthers will need all the help they can get on offense this season and they’d be wise to learn from Sunday’s performance and understand what kind of role would best fit Stewart. He may not rack up yards and he may not be the guy who is going to get 20 carries a game at this point. However, on short yardage and near the end zone, Stewart might be exactly the answer the Panthers (and fantasy players) are looking for.