SPARTANBURG It took Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams a while to warm up to Rob Chudzinskis offense last season.
And that was before the Panthers added another piece to an already crowded backfield.
But after putting major mileage on his legs at Memphis, Williams has grown accustomed to sharing the ball with the Panthers. First it was DeShaun Foster, then Jonathan Stewart, now Mike Tolbert not to mention quarterback Cam Newton.
Ive gotten used to it. Its a team game, Williams said this week after a training camp practice. Theres only one football on the field. Now had there been two or three footballs on the field, then I may have had a problem with it.
In a way, the Panthers, who play the Houston Texans in their exhibition opener Saturday at Bank of America Stadium, were protecting their investment by lightening Williams load. He signed a five-year, $43 million extension last summer that includes $21 million guaranteed.
The contract puts Williams among the five highest-paid backs in the league. The other four Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy each had more than 200 carries last season.
Rice carried 291 times, and Peterson finished with 208 rushes despite missing four games.
Meanwhile, 27 backs had more carries than Williams 155. But only one averaged more yards per carry than his 5.4-yard average the Cowboys DeMarco Murray at 5.5 yards.
In addition to Williams, Stewart and Newton averaged better than 5 yards a carry for the leagues third-best rushing offense.
Whats good for the back is good for the backfield, as Williams learned last year in Chudzinskis multi-layered attack.
I think our guys realize that what were doing and the way we do it is good for them, and if its good for them its good for the team, coach Ron Rivera said.
If our guys are getting anywhere between eight and 10 touches, 12 touches, and theyre effective, its great. And what it does, it doesnt wear them (down).
Williams averaged fewer than 10 carries a game last season his fewest since 2007 when he was splitting time with Foster and far cry from his days at Memphis, where he averaged 22 carries a game.
His 969 rushing attempts were the most in Conference USA history and he finished as the NCAAs career leader with 7,573 all-purpose yards.
Since Ive been here Ive been sharing carries, whether it was DeShaun Foster, whether it was Jonathan Stewart, Williams said. So coming in and doing that off the bat, it was easy to cope with coming from Memphis, where I was getting 20, 30 carries a game, to getting here to the National Football League and DeShaun kind of showing me the ropes.
Williams has made the most of his touches. With four more rushes assuming he doesnt lose 12 yards a carry on each of them Williams will join Jim Brown as the only two backs with at least 1,000 rushing attempts to average 5.0 yards a carry.
At least one other back San Franciscos Joe Perry in 1956 also hit the 5-yard average after 1,000 carries before dropping below it for his career.
Williams, 29, said he wont give it much thought until after his career is over.
When I get a chance to look back with my kids or my grandkids, Ill be able to tell them, Do you know Jim Brown? Theyre probably going to say no, Williams said, laughing.
Williams knew a little about Tolbert before the Panthers signed him, mainly his versatility and his end zone dances. Williams and Stewart called Tolbert to welcome him after he joined the team in March.
I was excited because that gave us a versatile fullback that can play either position, can play some tight end, Williams said. And looking at him play and him dancing and just his attitude, we were just like, his personality can fit in our room. It was easy to accept him.
The two must be on good terms: Williams took a good-natured shot at Tolberts round figure.
He was a little chubby coming in, but he trimmed the fat, he said, laughing again. And were ready to go now.
Williams took the same, friendly approach in embracing Stewart after the Panthers drafted him in the first round in 2008. The two became the first backfield tandem to each run for 1,100 yards in 2009 and earned the nickname, Double Trouble.
Those two guys are good buddies and I think they see the value in the length of their careers if they can share the load a little bit, offensive tackle Jordan Gross said.
They both want more carries and want more yards, obviously. But theyre very willing to be team players and split the load. And I think thats why theyre both so successful.