With Barner traded, Panthers begin transition to power-rushing


It seems that Kenjon Barner‘s speed wasn’t quick enough to appeal to the Carolina Panthers.

On Tuesday night, the Philadelphia Eagles announced they acquired the second-year tailback out of Oregon, in exchange for a conditional seventh-round pick. Barner is reunited with HC Chip Kelly, who coached the speedster in college. He may fit Kelly’s fast-paced offense, but in Carolina, Barner was struggling.

Aug 17, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers running back

Jonathan Stewart

(28) runs the ball during the second quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Although Barner bulked-up this offseason in order to fare better against the bigger  bodies of the NFL, a difference on the field remained to be seen. He had struggled thus far this preseason, averaging a whopping 1.7 yards on 15 carries. With speed the only great skill in his arsenal, Barner failed to reach the second level of the defense, frequently being stuffed at the line of scrimmage.

The emergence of Carolina’s other backs did not help Barner’s case either. Both Darrin Reaves and Fozzy Whittaker, young players looking to show their stuff, showed bright flashes of untapped potential. Veteran back Jonathan Stewart looked healthy as ever, as his debut against Kansas City saw two touchdowns on strong carries.

Even though the Panthers lost a sixth-round pick, much more seems to have been gained, the most valuable being a new look on offense.

Power running was a lost art in Carolina for a few years, but had made a bit of a comeback as of late, with powerhouse fullback Mike Tolbert destroying defenses like an aggressive bulldozer. Tolbert could only do so much, however, and starting RB DeAngelo Williams has struggled to do well when running it up the gut. Williams has slowly lost his burst of speed, as well as his ability to shed tackles.

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With Jonathan Stewart seemingly healthy, the game may be changed.

The Panthers currently boast their strongest interior line in years, and it has been made obvious. Rookie guard Trai Turner has especially made a huge contribution on the left side, pulling well and making a big difference in the running game.

Although it was just preseason, Stewart was given huge holes against Kansas City while running up the middle, hitting them effectively and bouncing off of defenders. With relatively mediocre running support from the tackles, look for the 2014 Panthers offense to avoid the off-tackle and focus on the blast. It is no coincidence that Carolina continues to shy away from running the ball on the outside.

The addition of Reaves and Whittaker just makes things more interesting.

Although Reaves will most likely be a practice squad designation, the undrafted rookie made some noise against the Bills in the first week of the preseason. He showed the ability to run through the line, and blocked fairly well.

Whittaker, on the other hand, has a great chance of making the roster, as he ran through the Chiefs with ease on Sunday, showing speed, power, and determination. Whittaker also has return experience, which Carolina desperately craves.

Although a heavy focus on pure bull-running may not have been in the plans before this season, it may be now. With strong-willed halfbacks emerging, and the interior line stronger than ever, it seems too perfect to be coincidence. Teams that lack a certain firepower on offense often rely on rushing strength, and it could be the saving grace of this underestimated Carolina offense.