So far, we’ve looked at every position on the offense with the exception of the running backs. So…
There are two schools of thought on the Carolina Panthers’ running game in ’07: 1) No opponent respected the running game because of the revolving door at quarterback and stacked the box against the running game and 2) The Panthers lacked the offensive line and/or the running backs to mount a successful ground attack.
It could be a little of both. We’ve already discussed that the Panthers might have a slight shakeup along the offensive line – a unit that has taken its lumps physically (injuries) and on the stat sheet (see the running stats). But the running backs can take a little of that blame too and have.
RB – DeShaun Foster : Considered a steal coming out of college, Foster has, at times shown explosiveness and the ability to carry the load as the feature back. Yet, throughout his career, he has been plagued by injuries, inconsistency and fumblitis. This past season was a major disappointment as he gained only 876 yards rushing with a 3.5 average. Worse still, Foster had a career high 5 fumbles lost. After six seasons, I have to think that Deshaun will find himself out of Charlotte during this offseason. He is due a large payday next year and his play simply doesn’t warrant that many presidential flashcards.
RB – DeAngelo Williams : I have one question for the Panthers’ brass – why has Williams not been given more playing time…wait, I’ll rephrase…why has Williams not been given the starting job? While Foster struggled last season, Williams was having a very good year statistically with a 5 yard average. He also bested Foster with two 100-yard rushing games (Foster had one) and seven plays of 20 yards or more (Foster had three). More importantly, Williams had four fewer lost fumbles than DeShaun. The third season should be the charm as Foster is likely out and Williams will become the workhorse of the offense as the feature back.
RB - Nick Goings : Long admired for his versatility and hard play, Goings missed all but four games last season, ending the year on IR with a concussion – the third of his career. He would be a longshot to return next year unless he receives very encouraging medical news and is willing to stay for much less money. As much as the coaches like Goings, this is a business and the harsh reality is that Goings may have seen his last snap with the Panthers.
RB – Alex Haynes : With only 3 carries for 3 yards, I can’t see Haynes figuring into the running game too prominently. A contribution on special teams can solidify a spot on the roster.
FB – Brad Hoover : He’s the only fullback listed on the team’s depth chart. So why would anyone wonder if he’ll be back? For one, he’s an unrestricted free agent this year and he’s 31 years old. The team likes him, however, and may attempt to bring him back. His experience and his ability to make a few catches out of the backfield (10 catches, 58 yards in ’07) could make him valuable to the team along with his blocking ability. Watch for him to re-sign for a lesser dollar amount. Besides, if Hoover leaves, there’ll be no reason to chant “Hoooooooooovvvver!!!”
Provided Hoover returns, or a suitable replacement is found, the running backs are fairly solid. If Foster leaves, Williams can flourish in the starting role. Any tweaking along the offensive line could cause some growing pains early in the season but this is an offense built on running the ball with the ocassional pass to Smitty. So, a premium will be placed on getting it right. I expect the team to go to Williams and take a shot at a backup running back in free agency or the draft.
Next up: The Defensive Line, tomorrow.