Carolina Panthers

Panthers’ Cameron Artis-Payne solidifies backup RB spot in win over Steelers

Carolina running back Cameron Artis-Payne (34) demonstrated on Thursday he can be the dependable backup the Panthers need.
Carolina running back Cameron Artis-Payne (34) demonstrated on Thursday he can be the dependable backup the Panthers need. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

The Carolina Panthers have been looking for a steady backup for Jonathan Stewart ever since they jettisoned DeAngelo Williams after the 2014 season.

In the fourth exhibition of the preseason, Cameron Artis-Payne showed that he’s ready for the task.

Artis-Payne had 18 carries for 77 yards and also caught two passes for 18 yards in Carolina’s 18-6 victory over Pittsburgh.

Yes, of course, this was in the “meaningless” exhibition. It’s the one where no players of import play.

But for Artis-Payne, it was his chance to show that he can carry a full workload in the event something happens to Stewart, who’s dealt with injuries for the better part of the past four seasons.

“The push that the offensive line got,” Artis-Payne said of the reason for his success in the first half. “They’ve been playing great tonight. They’ve just opened up some holes.”

Artis-Payne, a second-year back out of Auburn, was Carolina’s bell cow to begin the game. He carried on the game’s first five plays, gaining 27 yards and getting the Panthers on the other side of midfield.

Combining his rushing and receiving stats, Artis-Payne chewed up 4.75 yards per touch on Thursday night.

Carolina should feel comfortable going into the season with Artis-Payne backing up Stewart, even though his last game of meaning didn’t go the way he wanted.

Artis-Payne fumbled his first touch of the postseason when he substituted for Stewart after a long run. Carolina recovered and eventually scored on the drive, but Artis-Payne wasn’t active for the rest of the playoffs.

In training camp he said he had forgotten about the fumble until I mentioned it, which is tough t believe.

But his play this preseason – from getting better in pass protection by learning to anchor his body lower to his play Thursday night – has made that fumble a thing of the past.

Three who mattered

Graham Gano: He’s the only player who scored for the Panthers. Gano went 6-for-7 on field goal attempts with a long of 47 yards. He missed his sixth attempt, but his leg was probably worn out by that point.

Jeremy Cash: An undrafted rookie, Cash continues to make plays on both defense and special teams. He laid a hit on a tight end late in the third quarter that ensured he couldn’t hold on to the ball.

Joe Webb: Webb, the third-string quarterback, had to play the whole game and took his hits. But he finished 17 of 29 passing for 200yards and did a good job of playing quarterback for skill-position players trying to make the team.

Observations

▪  Former special teams coordinator Bruce DeHaven was at the exhibition after taking a medical leave in training camp. DeHaven, who is battling cancer and getting treatment in Buffalo, was hoping to return to the team by the Week 2 contest against San Francisco. DeHaven told the Observer he won’t be able to return before a possible postseason run.

▪  Carolina sat several key players for the fourth exhibition. Cam Newton, Greg Olsen, Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis. Philly Brown, Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, Ed Dickson, Jonathan Stewart, Michael Oher, Ryan Kalil, Charles Johnson, Star Lotulelei, Kony Ealy and Kawann Short all did not play. And with little depth at corner, Carolina also didn’t play rookie James Bradberry, who will start at outside corner next week in Denver.

▪  Bené Benwikere made a nice pass breakup on a deep pass from Landry Jones intended for Darius Heyward-Bey. Benwikere got the start at outside corner.

▪  Linebacker David Mayo made a great run-stuff early in the first quarter for a gain of just 2 yards. But early in the second quarter he got fooled on a quick move by running back Daryl Richardson on a dumpoff pass and was left standing. Two plays later, he made a key stop on third-and-1.

▪  Richardson later made cornerback Zack Sanchez miss badly on a big third-down conversion before the 2-minute warning. Sanchez came back on a corner blitz and made the tackle for loss on Richardson on the next play.

▪  Receiver Kevin Norwood injured his hip in the second quarter when he made a leaping catch. He came down awkwardly on his side and had trouble putting weight on his left leg.

Worth mentioning

▪  About a half-dozen Steelers players took off during TV timeouts and did sprints up and down the field. The group was led by receiver Antonio Brown.

▪  In light of the Colin Kaepernick protest, no players on either team sat during the player of national anthem.

▪  Keyarris Garrett had a great touchdown pass wiped away by an offensive pass interference call that may never have been. Garrett, on the play before, didn’t get a defensive pass interference call, and on the next play he was called for pushing off.

They said it

“As soon as the quarterback dropped back – really before the play even started – the quarterback took a peek so I had an understanding of what they may do with him being a speedy guy. Then on the drop back, I took another peek and I knew the ball was coming so I was able to make a play.” – Benwikere on his pass breakup.

Jonathan Jones: 704-358-5323, @jjones9

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