Stewart's 'ongoing pain' could be Achilles for Panthers

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

When I visited the Panthers the first few days of their camp I was a little concerned about how little running back Jonathan Stewart was practicing.

"We're just being cautious,'' Panthers officials told me. "It's not a big deal. He'll be ready for the regular season.''

But now, we are no longer that far away from the start of the regular season and Stewart's still sitting. He sat out Saturday night's preseason game with Miami and said he has ongoing pain from his Achilles tendon. That's not what you want to hear from a running back when the real games are only a few weeks away.

Stewart sounded like he probably won't play at all in the preseason and the next hurdle is opening day. Sure, Stewart missed a lot of camp last season as the Panthers were cautious with a toe injury. But I'm starting to suspect this may be about more than caution. I'm thinking Stewart may have a problem that might spill into the regular season.

Yes, Carolina has a very good feature back in DeAngelo Williams, but Williams is so good, in large part, because he shares carries with Stewart. I'm not so sure Williams would be so effective if he suddenly had to handle 350 carries a year. I also know the Panthers are high on rookie Mike Goodson, but the view him as a third-down back. Hypothetically, let's say Stewart isn't ready for the start of the regular season.

Would this backfield be as good as it was last year, when it was one of the best in the league? No way. Williams and Stewart are perfect complements to one another. Stewart brings the power and Williams the speed. Put Williams and Goodson together and you might have a decent combination with lots of speed, but it wouldn't bring the perfect balance that Williams and Stewart do.