The Carolina Panthers’ official website lists running back Jonathan Stewart as "questionable" to play in the Week 1 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with an ankle injury that held him out of practice all week.
Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer reports that the team will probably delay any decision on Stewart’s availability until game day.
Carolina has two big-money tailbacks (Stewart and DeAngelo Williams) and a fullback with ball-carrying experience (Mike Tolbert) on its roster.
Williams has proven more than capable of handling a full rushing workload in the past. If he does so this weekend, Stewart should be rested and ready to go with no setbacks by Week 2.
We all know what that means: DeAngelo Williams should be the Week 1 starter at running back for the Carolina Panthers.
Now, Williams may still share carries with Tolbert and will concede some to quarterback Cam Newton. But with the way Tampa Bay’s defense performed last season, there should be enough rushing yardage to go around.
The Buccaneers almost have to improve over their uninspired showing last season. The game plan for Carolina, however, has to be to feed the ball to their backs first and ask questions later. They’ll need to test Greg Schiano’s defense to see if it will be as generous on the ground as it was in 2011.
Last year, the Panthers rushed 70 times for 433 yards (6.19 avg) and seven touchdowns against the Bucs in two games. Stewart played and scored in both contests.
While Cam Newton accounted for four of those rushing touchdowns, the running back tandem of Stewart and Williams rushed 39 times for 263 yards (6.74 avg) and the other three ground scores. The pair also added five catches for 48 yards and another touchdown.
With Stewart out of the mix, Williams stands to benefit from what has been a favorable matchup in the past. He could see 20 carries on Sunday if Stewart doesn’t play, which should result in a 100-yard outing.
If Stewart does play, Williams will have a diminished opportunity to do damage for your fantasy team this Sunday, but his chances of statistical success will depend on whether or not the Buccaneers have solved their defensive deficiencies from 2011.