CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula didn’t appear too concerned on Monday that he’ll be without Pro Bowl running back Jonathan Stewart for at least a game or two with a hamstring injury.
That’s because he has “that other guy.’’
That other guy that Shula didn’t mention by name is quarterback Cam Newton. If all else fails with Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne and Mike Tolbert, the Panthers always can turn to the legs of the NFL MVP.
That doesn’t mean Shula will turn Newton loose running when the Panthers face the Minnesota Vikings (2-0) on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
But he has that option now just as he did last season when Stewart missed the final three regular-season games with a foot injury.
That was especially true in the first game Stewart missed. Newton rushed eight times for 100 of Carolina’s 171 yards in a 38-35 victory against the New York Giants.
The only back with more carries was Artis-Payne, who had 14 carries for 59 yards.
Newton had seven carries for 46 yards and a touchdown the next week and six carries for 10 yards in the regular-season finale.
The Panthers actually averaged more yards rushing a game (145.6) in those games without Stewart than they did in the previous 13 when they averaged 141.9.
Newton was a big part of that.
But that was late in the season when the Panthers were trying to wrap up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and a perfect record before it was spoiled in the next-to-last game.
Shula is a bit more cognizant about not running his star player as much now, particularly after he took 17 hits in the opener at Denver.
Newton had six of his 11 rushes in the first half against the Broncos. He had only one run in the first quarter of Sunday’s 46-27 win against San Francisco, and that was on a scramble.
He had four at halftime and finished with just six.
“We’re obviously looking at how many carries he gets, and how many hits. That’s the hot topic,’’ said
Shula, referring to the controversy of the four helmet-to-helmet hits Newton took against the Broncos. “It’s just kind of a week-to-week thing. Game 1, more so than most games, have we started running him early. That was probably the exception.’’
In other words, don’t look for Newton to run a lot early against the Vikings, who have the sixth-best run defense in the NFL, unless it’s warranted.
Shula will go with a mix of Whittaker, Artis-Payne and Tolbert. He probably won’t load up Whittaker with 16 rushes – 19 touches overall – as he did when Stewart went out and Artis-Payne was on the inactive list.
But he feels good about what he has without Stewart.
“I had a lot of confidence in all of them, really,’’ Shula said. “Those guys are really well prepared, so we’ll probably do it like we did it last time. Cap will be ready. Fozzy and Mike, and we’ve got that other guy back there that can carry it a couple of times, too.’’