He's been No.2. He's been No.1A. Now he's No.1 – sort of.
Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams officially remains the starter for the Panthers, who will host the Kansas City Chiefs today. But when the Panthers get inside the opponent's 20, Williams is replaced by rookie Jonathan Stewart.
That's why Stewart has four touchdowns in four games and Williams has zero. But Williams, whom I've never heard complain about his role in three years, said he's OK with it.
“He gets all the goal-line carries,” Williams said.. “It doesn't bother me at all. I challenge myself with that. You know, I'll just score from 50.”
That's possible. In 2007, when Williams was the No.2 back behind overrated and misused DeShaun Foster, he broke off runs of 32, 35, 39 and 75 yards. That's why fans clamored for Williams to play more – he had the burst that Foster no longer possessed. So now Williams does play more. And, after four games, his longest run of the season has been 21 yards.
It's either about time for Williams to break one, or it's time for Stewart to start getting 65percent of the carries between these tailbacks instead of the 45percent he currently receives.
Williams' greatest gift as a football player is his potential as a long-ball threat. He can bolt to the outside and go. Although he does his best on straight-up-the-gut runs, that's not his forte. He goes down easier than the powerful Stewart, who is more of a Stephen Davis type. Stewart can take a couple of defenders on a ride for 2 more yards, while Williams is better at outracing defenders around the corner.
That's why Stewart has become so valuable at the goal line. The Panthers foolishly tried for years to turn Foster into a between-the-tackles back like Davis was for the Super Bowl team of 2003. Foster was utterly miscast in that role. Instead, Foster just got a little slower, year by year, and never reached the 1,000-yard mark.
When Williams was the No.2 back behind Foster, he always got along well with Foster. Williams has done the same with Stewart since assuming the No.1 role.
“It's not a ‘me' thing with me or a ‘me' thing with him,” Williams said. “It's a ‘we' thing.”
A genial type with a love for horror movies, Williams won't get disgruntled when, and if, Stewart replaces him as the No.1 back. I don't think that should happen just yet. Williams is more comfortable with the Panthers terminology and offers more of a comfort level to the Panthers on, say, blitz pickups than Stewart.
At some point, though, it needs to happen unless Williams can break a few big ones. Like he said, he needs to score from 50. He needs to make fans remember why they were so excited when Carolina drafted him in the first round out of Memphis in 2006. He needs to go for 100 yards – today – against a Kansas City defense that is hardly imposing against the run.
Williams waited his turn patiently to be the No.1 running back in this offense. He deserves a little patience from Carolina fans.
It's not yet time to start Stewart. But if Williams doesn't break one before long, it soon will be.
Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140; email@example.com.