Injuries Mount in Carolina Panthers' Backfield

Every year it seems like the Carolina Panthers lose at least one guy for the year early in mini-camp. Last year around this time, it was LG Amini Silatolu. This year, it's rookie RB Tyler Gaffney.

Gaffney was drafted to compete with Kenjon Barner for snaps behind Jonathan Stewart and an aging DeAngelo Williams, but Gaffney isn't the only Carolina RB that's ailing.

Who is the other ailing RB you may ask? Do I really have to tell you?

Yep, it's Stewie. Jonathan Stewart could miss two to four weeks, according to early reports. I hate to say it, but isn't it just downright strange that he keeps getting dinged up....AFTER he got paid?

His injury is "a hamstring ailment suffered before players reported to training camp."

Uh-huh, riiiiight. Like the Church Lady used to say...."How conveeeeeenient."

If she were a Panthers' fan, she (well, Dana Carvey anyway) would be going off about the fact his last name starts with an "S" and wondering what it really stands for. Could it be........SATAN?!!?!?!?

No, he's the coach at the University of Alabama, but I certainly do understand the frustration. For two years in a row, they've drafted youth at the position in order to try and eventually get some of these fat salaries off the books, but this crop of RBs isn't doing their part.

Although it looks like Stewart should be back before Opening Day, and healthy at that, I simply think he's an unreliable runner at this point in his career and could (and likely will) go down again to injury. Last year he was "nagged" by problems with his ankles. This year it's his hamstring, which is a notoriously re-occurring injury for runners. The same thing nagged Texans' RB Arian Foster throughout the season two years ago.

While I don't know for sure Stewart's injuries of late have anything to do with his "being paid," I do think it's "conveeeeeenient" that he started getting these injuries after he got the big payday. I'd like to think he's no Albert Haynesworth, but if this "hamstring issue" stays with him all season, I say dump his behind as soon as the "dead money" becomes an acceptable cost of doing business. As it is, the cost is over $15 million this year. Thanks, Marty!

In either case, a few years back there was a lot of talk about trading him since we had a younger, vital DeAngelo. Considering the veritable mountain of cash Stewie's gotten since and for such little production, a trade would have been great. I had hoped they'd pull that trade at the time, but then again it was GM Marty Hurney who loved his runners.

 Let's not forget losing 6th-round rookie pick Tyler Gaffney, either. At 5'11" and 220 pounds with good speed for his size, the hope was he could help provide some of the inside pounding that the Panthers wanted to do more of this year without playing Mike Tolbert out of position.

With Gaffney and the even larger Stewart out of the picture, the backfield looks exactly the same as it did last season....and without Jordan Gross to block (no, this isn't "Hollywood Squares"). Instead, it appears that Byron Bell will be moved from the right side to the left tackle. Despite what Gettleman & Co. say, the late Paul Lynde could pass-block about as well as Bell can. I'm sure he could trash-talk better, at least.

So now, we're back to where we were last year. DeAngelo is the only reliable tailback and he's a year older and in that "over 30" crowd. Tolbert's the fullback who can play some tailback on short yardage either in single-back sets or with a TE put in as a FB to block for him. Kenjon Barner, entering his second season, has yet to show much of anything at the pro level (which is why Gaffney was drafted most likely), so both those guys can be marked off the list for 2014.

Looks like Gettleman's going to be hitting free agency again....looking for another RB for the rotation. With all the money locked up in the position and with two draft picks there in the last two years, this is the LAST thing they were expecting.

Since the offensive tackle spot is nearly bare, despite the proclamations of Gettleman or others, the playbook just shrank even more. Even with the veteran WRs like Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant on the roster, they're simply replacing vacated talent from last season. All this going on WHILE Cam Newton is still struggling in recovering from ankle surgery, which has limited his reps in camp thus far.

Then there's Kelvin Benjamin. Early on, his passes will likely be red zone targets and chains-moving type of plays. Those will be his bread and butter as he learns how to run more precise routes and is taught how to play as physically as his size would suggest he can - but didn't in college. His being a redshirt-sophomore coming out of FSU doesn't help, since he's quite raw....and his slowest-in-position 3-cone drill at the combine suggests he'll have issues getting separation from coverage in the early going, if not for his entire career.

Although the Temperature Scale's catch radius is huge, Cam's not the most accurate QB in the NFL. We've been over the "whys" of Benjamin's drafting - when Cam misses, he usually misses high - and Benjamin's skill set, while impressive, is indeed somewhat limited and in college he had issues dropping passes. Things are NOT looking good once again.

Sound familiar?

It's definitely too early to tell, but so far this season is starting off like last year's did, and that's rather poorly.

Let's just hope with all the issues they already have that they can end this regular season in a similar fashion to how they did last season....but at this point, that's an order much, much taller than Kelvin Benjamin will ever be.

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