SPARTANBURG When going over the playbook with first-year offensive coordinator Mike Shula, running back DeAngelo Williams will occasionally ask his coach what he ideally wants out of the play.
Whats the intended yardage? Does Shula want his back to get 2, 3 or 4 yards?
He always laughs at me because hell say, Well I want it to go 3 yards, because after I get the 3 yards its my show, Williams said. I can do whatever I want to do after that. If its designed to get 3 or 4 and I get that 3 or 4, after that you can make a guy miss and take it the distance, thats all on you.
It has been Williams show this training camp. Long-time running mate Jonathan Stewart is on the physically unable to perform list still recovering from offseason ankle surgery. With a renewed emphasis in the running game under Shula, Williams is making the most of his opportunity.
The franchises all-time leading rusher, Williams went from last seasons opening day starter to a Week 7 backup getting two carries, then rebounded to set the team record with 210 rushing yards in the Week 17 finale.
He let his frustrations with the play calling be known midway through last season, but on Friday said he went through a reformation last year.
Im a role player, and Im going to play my role, Williams said. Whatever role they need me to play in order for us to win games, Im going to do that. It doesnt matter what I think, its what the coaches want, and what they know.
High expectations, slow start
With more than $80 million in contract money between Stewart and Williams, the team seemed destined to use its backs as effectively as it did in 2009 when the duo ran for more than 1,110 yards each.
But through the first five games, Williams, who before last year had started in 49 of his previous 51 games, was the starting running back on a team that averaged less than 100 rushing yards. The coaching staff decided to switch it up when the Panthers ground game couldnt find its stride.
Rivera and former offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski turned to Stewart. Williams, meanwhile, endured getting seven carries or fewer in five of the next six games.
After Carolinas 19-14 loss to Dallas in Week 7 in which Williams carried the ball twice for 4 yards, Williams took his frustration to Twitter, where he retweeted several fans who were dismayed by his use.
I was a little bit upset, well not necessarily upset, it bothered me a little bit that I didnt get the opportunities that I thought I should have gotten, said Williams, who added his demotion wasnt the cause of his frustration. That lasted for one game because as a team player you cant feel like that. If this is what it takes to win games, then this is what Im willing to do.
Rivera knew Williams wanted more carries, but he was impressed with how well Williams ultimately handled the situation.
He handled it like a true pro, Rivera said. He practiced hard and gave great looks. He helped his teammates out, and that is what its about. When youre called upon you do your job and when youre not you keep doing your job and thats what he did.
Williams got his job back when Stewart went on injured reserve with a sprained ankle in Week 12. In the final five games of the season, Williams racked up 445 rushing yards, 140 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
Williams 737 rushing yards fell four yards behind Newtons team-leading total, making Newton the fourth quarterback in NFL history to lead his team in rushing.
This offseason the Panthers and new general manager Dave Gettleman approached Williams about restructuring his contract. With the Panthers needing salary cap space for 2012 and beyond, Williams had his 2013 base salary cut from $4.75 million to $850,000.
He recouped $4 million as part of a signing bonus, but the real cuts will come in the next two seasons, where instead of nearly $13 million in base salary hell make less than $4 million plus option bonuses and incentives.
Williams declined to comment Friday on his contract.
Now or never
It took Cam Newton just one practice to see the look in Williams eyes, one the quarterback said he had never seen from the running back before.
He has that look in his eye like its now or never, Newton said. Its not panicked. Its an intensity. Hes like the time is now for us. I know that is what you need as a team, from a leader.
Williams called this year a clean slate with Shula as the new offensive coordinator. Williams expects a re-emphasis on the running game, as well as more rushing than passing after Carolina passed the ball 490 times last year compared with 462 rushes.
But the past two years have taught him something about getting the ball in camp and expecting the same to happen in the regular season.
The last two years I saw it in camp. I saw it in practice. I saw it all the way up until game time, and then that light switch came on to where we threw it more than we ran it, Williams said. But I think were going back to the traditional football in terms of where the run and the pass complement each other.
Its kind of one of those things where Im not going to scream it out and yell that I want the ball. Im going to do it with my actions.
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9
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