Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart will make his return from ankle injuries this week against the Atlanta Falcons, as he is set to be activated from the reserve/PUP list before this afternoon’s deadline. Stewart joins a Panthers backfield that is among the deepest in the league with the likes of feature back DeAngelo Williams, fullback Mike Tolbert (he’s a real touchdown magnet), and rookie scat back Kenjon Barner. Although Barner figures to get next to nothing as far as playing time goes, he’s technically a fourth option at the running back position for head coach Ron Rivera to use.
Williams is still the Panthers feature back despite the fact that he has cooled off of his hot pace to start the season, as Williams is still quite clearly the Panthers most reliable running back. It can be argued that Jonathan Stewart is more talented, but his constant ankle injuries have made it nearly impossible for him to re-assume the role as the team’s No. 1 back. For that to happen, Williams himself would have to go down with an injury or simply play very poorly in order to relinquish that role.
According to the Charlotte Observer’s Jonathan Jones, Ron Rivera expects Jonathan Stewart will receive about six to ten carries in this week’s rivalry matchup with the Falcons. It will be interesting to see how effective/hobbled Stewart is upon his return, and it is unrealistic to expect too much out of him this week. But his play going forward is likely a different story, because he will undoubtedly be a factor as long as he stays healthy (that’s the tough part).
Here’s a golden nugget from Rivera, “What you’d love to see is DeAngelo get in one of those rhythms. He gets four, five, six carries in eight plays, Jonathan goes in and he gets a couple of carries, some pass stuff. He comes out, Michael Tolbert goes in and does his thing and then bam, we go back to 21 personnel (two running backs, one tight end) and you’ve got DeAngelo and Tolbert in there for a few more. Somewhere along the line we bring in Kenjon (Barner) and he gets a couple snaps.”