Panthers still want to use the two-back system

PHOENIX -- The Carolina Panthers may have given up on all-time leading rusher DeAngelo Williams, but they haven’t given up on the two-back system.

Coach Ron Rivera said on Wednesday at the NFL owners meeting the Panthers ideally would like to get about 15 carries from Jonathan Stewart and then 8-10 from another back.

That other back likely will be found in the NFL draft. The Panthers hosted Georgia’s Todd Gurley, expected to be the first or second back selected, last week.

They also have shown interest in Indiana’s Tevin Coleman, Southern California’s Javorius Allen and a few other backs who would be second- to mid-round picks.

“The thing you’ve got to be careful about in this league is you can’t rely on one player at one position,’’ Rivera said during the NFC coaches breakfast. “Running back has definitely been proven that you’ve got to have a good two-back tandem.

“And that’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for that complement to Jonathan.’’

The Panthers have Fozzy Whittaker and fullback/running back Mike Tolbert to spell Stewart. But neither can replace him without a dropoff in talent like Williams could.

Williams was released last month because of his age (32 in April) and because the Panthers could save $2 million under the salary cap in 2015. They also released him because that opens a spot to develop a young player behind Stewart.

“We want to make sure we have a guy waiting in the wings for an opportunity,’’ Rivera said. “But not necessarily just waiting in the wings, but being a part of what we’re doing in the game.

“And you’ve got to remember we’ve got to spread the ball to Fozzy. We’ve got to get it the ball Mike Tolbert as well because those guys are very capable players. They have shown they can be successful in what we do.’’

Injuries also are a concern. Stewart played only 15 of 32 regular-season games between 2012 and 2013 because of ankle and knee injuries. He missed three games last season.

Stewart also proved to be one of the most productive backs in the league last year when healthy. He led the NFL in rushing with 437 yards from Weeks 12-15 while Williams was out with a broken hand.

The Panthers just want to make sure they remain productive when Stewart can’t play or needs a rest.

In 2009 Williams and Stewart became the first set of backs from one team to rush for more than 1,100 yards in the same season. That earned them the nickname “Double Trouble." The Panthers would like to find the second half of trouble with a young back.

Had Williams been younger and less expensive, he could have been that back. Despite the decision to let him go, Rivera was more than complimentary of Williams as he takes his talent to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“They’re getting a guy who practices very, very hard,’’ Rivera said of Williams. “And he’s a great example for the young players on how to practice. You’re getting a very steady player, a very smart player who has a tremendous amount of pride in his work. Has great work ethic. He beats himself up when he makes mistakes because he wants to do things right the first time.

“He was actually somebody I would be able to go to and ask specific questions and know I was going to get an unfiltered answer. And I really appreciate that.’’