As it stands Jonathan Stewart hasn't practiced this week, and remains sidelined with a sprained ankle he sustained against the New York Jets during preseason. J-Stew is notable tough when it comes to injuries; it's routine for him to miss practices, but rarely is held out of actual competition, so when he's listed as 'questionable' on the Friday injury report it's only natural to cause a few eye rolls.
That being said, there's no real sense in jeapordizing his health for 2012 on the first game of the season. It's precisely moments like this that helped motivate the signing of Mike Tolbert in the off-season. Should Carolina need a short yardage, or goalline back they have Tolbert, and lest we forget DeAngelo Williams is more than capable in this regard.
Sunday's game will hinge on the passing offense, and to this end Stewart is a nice weapon, but not necessary. Nobody's denying his ability as a weapon out of the backfield, and as a threat on screen plays, but even as vital as game one is, it's simply not worth risking Stewart.
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The decision to sign both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, AND bring in Mike Tolbert was overkill, but when we're late in the season and some team is keyed in on Cam's passing game (and it will happen) we'll be happy Marty Hurney decided to retain all those backs.
What's slightly underwhelming is DeAngelo Williams lack of success against Tampa Bay over the last two years. Playing in three games, he's managed just 149 yards on 35 carries, at an uncharacteristically low 4.2 yards per carry (his career average is 5.1). It was only the final game against Tampa last year that salvaged an unsuccessful three outings. If you know Williams then you know this is kind of his style; he'll knock on the door for 8-10 carries, only to bust the 11th off for 40 yards– he's the definition of a home run hitter, and what the Panthers have asked him to do under Rob Chudzinksi.
The Carolina Panthers have an embarrassment of riches on offense right now, and it's almost silly to think about the loss of someone like Stewart not even being a huge factor, and yet here we are. Some offensive creativity, paired with the receivers and backs in-house should allow Chud's offense to keep on ticking, even without J-Stew.