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Panthers' new backfield comes cheap

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Carolina Panthers have gone from one of the most expensive backfields in the NFL to one of the cheapest, at least in terms of those who will be on the field.

DeAngelo Williams ($6 million), Jonathan Stewart ($4.85 million) and Mike Tolbert ($3.35 million) represent 12.52 percent of Carolina’s 2014 salary cap.

All three -- Williams (ankle), Stewart (sprained knee) and Tolbert (IR, fractured leg) -- will miss Sunday’s game against Chicago.

They will be replaced by Darrin Reaves ($370,000), Chris Ogbonnaya ($435,882) and Fozzy Whittaker ($495,000), who represent 2.36 percent of the salary cap.

The replacement’s combined salary of $1,301,470 is less than that of 16 players on the 53-man roster.

Not that the replacements are complaining. They’re thankful for the opportunity.

For them, this is the chance to prove that perhaps one day they deserve a big salary. If opponents want to overlook them because they’re basically a group of no-names, that’s OK.

“Some people may not think that,’’ Whittaker said. “But we know the work we’ve put in and we know the amount of intensity we’re going to bring to the game. Them not viewing that as positive or negative, man, it just gives us a better edge.

“We hope they overlook us, so whenever we come [into] the game we’re able to show what we can do.’’

Whittaker and company are replacing a lot -- and not just in terms of salary. Williams, Stewart and Tolbert have a combined 2,800 carries for 12,801 yards and 106 touchdowns. Whittaker, Reaves and Ogbonnaya have a combined 184 carries for 765 yards and one touchdown.

Of that, 144 carries and 660 yards belong to Ogbonnaya, who has been dubbed “Obi-Wan Kenobi’’ by quarterback Cam Newton.

And he was signed on Monday.

Williams and Stewart were first-round draft picks in 2006 and 2008. Reaves and Whittaker were undrafted, and Ogbonnaya was a seventh-round pick.

Talk about pressure.

“I wouldn’t call it extra pressure,’’ said Whittaker, who led Carolina in rushing during the preseason with 162 yards. “Things are going to happen, and whenever it’s your turn, step up.’’

The Panthers (2-2) need somebody to step up in the run game that ranks 29th in the league, averaging 71 yards a game after averaging 126.6 yards a game last season.

As Rivera said earlier in the week, the situation at running back is a bit scary. The good news? Rivera has been impressed with the way the replacements have handled practice, from picking up blitzes to catching passes out of the backfield.

“I’m feeling pretty comfortable with those three guys right now,’’ Rivera said. “Just that we have some quality guys that have gotten some time under their belts.’’

They don’t cost a lot, either.