Panthers look to ride RBs, provide relief for Newton

Carolina Panthers fans have spent the offseason wondering whether star quarterback Cam Newton can overcome his sophomore slump. The answer might actually be lined up a few yards behind and beside him.

After a stellar rookie campaign degenerated into a subpar second season for Newton, even he shouldered the blame. But the guy in the “Superman” undershirt may have been taking a bullet for a ground game that also went south in 2012.

Moreso than other NFL teams, the Panthers offense flows much better when it gets the running game going. Carolina is fortunate to have a loaded backfield of DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert, a Coastal Carolina graduate who paves the way for the two tailbacks.

Despite having three talented backs to hand off to, Newton still led the Panthers in rushing in 2012 with 741 yards – a bad sign for any offense. The Panthers have brought in new offensive coordinator Mike Shula to strengthen both the rushing and passing games.

“I think last year or the years past, and I don’t want to dwell on that during the interview, but the success for the Carolina Panthers has been getting our running backs involved in the game early and letting those guys do what they do,” Newton said during a break between minicamp practices this week.

“Everyone knows we have playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, but for us to be successful, I feel and everyone feels on the offensive side of the ball that we have to run the football, that we will run the football.”

–Stewart, wide receiver Domenik Hixon and guard Edmund Kugbila all sat out the entire minicamp. Stewart had surgeries on both ankles this offseason and the Panthers are hoping, but not willing to guarantee, he will be ready for the start of training camp.

Hixon, who constantly battled injuries during his five years with the New York Giants, tweaked a hamstring during OTAs. Kugbila, a fourth-round draft pick in April, has been bothered by a left knee injury.

–Despite recent surgeries on his shoulder and knee, linebacker Jon Beason was surprisingly active this week.

Beason’s original timetable was to take it easy during OTAs and minicamp, and then push it during training camp. But after Carolina’s medical staff cleared him, he joined the starters during team drills throughout minicamp.

The three-time Pro Bowler worked at strong-side linebacker, next to 2012 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Luke Kuechly, who replaced Beason in the middle after Week 4 last year.

–Much-maligned wide receiver Armanti Edwards was expected to be very much in danger of not hanging around past final cuts, but Carolina’s staff is hopeful he has finally turned a corner.

Internally, coaches were raving about Edwards’ performance through OTAs, and after the final minicamp practice, coach Ron Rivera went public.

“Probably the guy who’s really improved the most during these OTAs and minicamp has been Armanti,” Rivera said. “He made a couple really nice plays. I know you guys saw today he made a couple big catches. His development has been really key for us as well.”

After converting from a college quarterback to a pro wide receiver, Edwards caught just five passes for 121 yards and zero touchdowns in his first three seasons.

Photo by Joel Beachum

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