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Monday, August 25, 2008
Panthers may have Fox's dream backfield

By Pat Yasinskas
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

WilliamsStewart

Perhaps the biggest question surrounding the Carolina Panthers for fans (especially fantasy football players) is whether DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart will be the starting running back.

It may seem like a big deal and a big decision for coach John Fox because there's an obvious status that comes along with being the starter. But this situation is not a dilemma for Fox. It's a dream.

Having Stewart's power and Williams' speed gives Fox the kind of backfield combination he hasn't had in a long time. Fox has had to go through most of his tenure mixing and matching running backs because of injuries and, at times, a lack of options.

Although Fox always has been a believer in having two strong running backs, he's truly only had that situation once. That was in 2003 when Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster shared the load. It's no coincidence the Panthers made the Super Bowl that season.

It would be a stretch to declare Stewart the second coming of Davis, although he has a similar running style. Stewart is a rookie and no one knows for sure how he'll do in the NFL. But, on paper, he's the perfect complement to Williams, who hasn't had a chance to truly show his talents in his first two seasons, and that's a good start.

Williams and Stewart each ran for 100 yards in Saturday night's preseason victory against Washington. That's not going to happen every week in the regular season, but that's what the Panthers will shoot for.

No matter who starts, the load in this backfield will be shared. Things will be spread around far more than they were in 2003 when Davis carried 318 times for 1,444 yards and Foster had 429 yards on 113 carries. Look for a split much closer to 50-50.

In Fox's system, that would be a formula for success. A balanced tandem at running back has been a formula for success for a lot of teams. Five of the Super Bowl champions since 200 have had two running backs rushing for at least 500 yards and five teams that made the playoffs last year had two backs gain at least 500 yards.