SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams has heard coach Ron Rivera talk about returning to a traditional running game and using the running backs more in this year's offense.
Williams will believe it when he sees it.
Williams, Carolina's all-time leading rusher, said Friday the Panthers are spending a lot of time on the running game at training camp, but quickly added that's not unlike the last two summers when the Panthers stressed running the ball — only to change course once the season began.
"The last two years I saw it in camp," Williams said. "I saw it in practice. I saw it all the way up until game time... and then we threw it more than we ran it."
The Panthers threw it 485 times last year and ran it 462.
And when they did run it, it was often quarterback Cam Newton carrying the ball. Newton led the team in rushing last season with 741 yards and eight touchdowns.
Williams hopes this year is different, and the Panthers stick with the run under new offensive coordinator Mike Shula, who was promoted from quarterbacks coach earlier this offseason.
"After the first two or three games we'll definitely know our identity as a team," Williams said.
Williams carried the ball a team-high 173 times last season, but has emphasized to coaches that he wants more action — preferably more than 10.8 carries per game.
"He wants the ball," Rivera said.
Williams could wind up getting the bulk of carries early in the season depending on the how Jonathan Stewart recovers from surgery on both ankles. Stewart, the team's other go-to back, has missed all of training camp, but said he's hopeful to be ready for the season opener.
"We (as running backs) have always been involved in the running game, but I think we got away from it a few years ago," Williams said. "We got a new offensive coordinator so we're starting off with a clean slate. We'll see how it goes."
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said he's noticed a sense of urgency from Williams this year.
"I think he wants it," Newton said. "For me I sense something in DeAngelo that I haven't seen before. He has that look in his eye like it's now or never. It's not panicked, (but) it's an intensity. He's like, the time is now for us."
Williams, who turned 30 in April, admits the clock is ticking on his own football mortality.
He took a pay cut this offseason — which he declined to talk about — so he could return to the Panthers and make a run at the Super Bowl.
"I think I'm more verbal on it because the clock's winding down for some of the older guys and this may be our last opportunity," Williams said. "We may have two or three more opportunities but like I told Cam, the time is now. ... We don't have to go home in December or January. We can go home in February."
The past couple of years have been tough for Williams.
Last year the Panthers made the decision to go with one primary ball carrier earlier in the season and chose Stewart over Williams to carry the load.
The news didn't sit well with Williams, but Rivera said he handled the demotion "like a true pro."
The move didn't last long however, as Stewart went down with an injury shortly afterward and Williams was reinserted into the starting lineup. He earned some vindication by rushing for a franchise-record 210 yards against the New Orleans Saints in last year's season finale, a 44-38 Carolina win.
"It bothered me a little bit that I didn't get the opportunities that I thought I should have gotten," Williams said. "That lasted for one game because as a team player you can't feel like that. If this is what it takes to win games, then this is what I'm willing to do."
Williams said that goes for this year, too.
"Each game is different," Williams said. "If it takes six carries to win the game then six carries. If it takes 15 or 20, then 15 or 20. In this league, these guys are big, strong and fast. Cardio comes into play when you lean on them. You get them down and you lean on them, third or fourth quarter comes around, that's when those holes start opening up."
NOTES: Defensive end Charles Johnson and Frank Alexander both left practice early Friday with stiffness in their backs. Wide receiver Domenik Hixon left practice early when he felt his hamstring tighten up.
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