Friday night’s touchdown wasn’t the first that Elijah Hood had ever scored at Bank of America Stadium.
Now he must try to make sure it won’t be the last.
A former star at both Charlotte Catholic and North Carolina, Hood bullied his way into the end zone from 3 yards out for the Carolina Panthers’ final TD Friday in a 27-20 preseason win over Miami.
Said Hood: “Being able to get out there and score, especially running through a linebacker on the way, kind of sends a message: ‘I’m back. I’m still doing my thing. I can still run over some guys.’”
At 5-11 and 230 pounds, Hood is a between-the-tackles runner who remains a long shot to make the Panthers’ final 53-man roster. The special-teams coaches will really have to want him — that’s probably what it will come down to given Carolina’s depth at running back. But Hood has undoubtedly bettered his odds in the first two weeks of exhibitions, scoring a TD in both games.
Against Buffalo, Hood sneaked out of the backfield and caught a 21-yard touchdown pass. Against Miami, he got the ball on three straight fourth-quarter carries inside the Dolphins 5 in his only offensive action — and finally scored on the third. He punctuated the TD with a ferocious spike that would have made Rob Gronkowski proud.
“It’s just a rush whenever you score in that stadium,” Hood said, “especially being in Charlotte.”
Said Panthers coach Ron Rivera: “When we gave Elijah Hood an opportunity, he showed his power.”
Hood’s first touchdown in Bank of America Stadium came during the 2015 season in Charlotte. He scored from 2 yards out in a 45-37 loss to Clemson in the ACC championship game that December.
Earlier in 2015, Hood had played another game in Bank of America Stadium in which he was completely misused by coach Larry Fedora near the goal line. Hood gained 138 yards on only 12 carries against South Carolina, running roughshod over the Gamecocks at every opportunity. But he got zero carries in three Tar Heel trips inside the red zone in that game, and a very talented UNC team managed to fritter away a lead and lose, 17-13.
On that UNC team, like most he has played on, Hood was a workhorse. On this one, he is an afterthought at running back — he comes in after Christian McCaffrey, and after C.J. Anderson, and after Cameron Artis-Payne, and sometimes after Kenjon Barner, too.
Very few NFL teams are ever going to keep five running backs — the likely number is three or four (not including Alex Armah, who will make the team as a fullback).
So Hood would likely have to beat out Barner or Artis-Payne — or both — to win a roster spot. The practice squad is a more likely destination for Oakland’s seventh-round draft in 2017.
Said Hood of his chance at making his hometown team: “It’s not really my place to say. All I can do is go out there and give it my best shot.”
Hood has already stuck around long enough to get a nickname from quarterback Cam Newton, though — it is “panic room,” which Newton bestowed after seeing Hood’s eyes grow wide during a film-room session.
And if Hood can keep his string of touchdowns going Friday against New England, he’s going to give the Panthers a hard decision to make.