Stewart anticipates being ready for opener
SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart isn't concerned about his latest injury limiting his effectiveness this season.
The six-year NFL veteran is expected to miss about two weeks of training camp after pulling his hamstring while running sprints earlier this month.
"It's definitely frustrating, but it's nothing that I'm really too concerned about considering my past and my history with my ankles," Stewart said. "If I can overcome that, then this is an easy one."
Stewart said he expects to be ready for the regular season.
Still, any talk of injuries with Stewart raises concerns.
A former first-round draft pick, Stewart has missed 17 games the past two seasons with foot and ankle injuries. The 27-year-old has been limited to 516 yards rushing the past two seasons and one touchdown after running for 3,500 yards and 26 TDs during his four seasons in the NFL.
Stewart said the positive news about his ankles feels great.
That's something that hasn't been the case the past three summers at the team's summer training camp home at Wofford College.
"I love the fact that I can get up in the morning and walk without that much soreness in my ankles," Stewart said. "It's the little things in life that you take for granted. You just look at things different a little bit. ... The fresher you are the better. Going into this year I'm going to be the freshest that I've been in two years."
Injuries have defined Stewart's career in Carolina.
Even when Stewart did play — he only missed one game in his first four NFL seasons — he rarely practiced during the week leading up to games due to nagging foot and ankle problems.
But he's hoping for a bounce-back season after being held to 180 yards rushing on 48 carries in 2013 in just six games.
"I don't really believe in luck," Stewart said. "I just believe that you're given a hand of cards and it's up to you to make the best next move. With the last couple of years, battling injuries and whatnot, it's just something I had to go through. It's made me who I am now."
The powerful 5-foot-10, 235-pound Stewart runs with a low center of gravity and showed early in his career he has a knack for finding the end zone. He ran for 10 touchdowns in each of his first two seasons. In 2009, his second season in the league, Stewart gained a career-best 1,133 yards rushing while averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
He's not come close to matching those numbers since.
But coach Ron Rivera is optimistic that could change this season.
"It's not as bad as people think because he's been doing a lot of good things," Rivera said of Stewart's latest setback.
"He had a good OTA and minicamp. ... It doesn't sound as serious as some hamstrings can be. He will go through walkthroughs and integrating with the team in certain situations."
Stewart enters this season as Carolina's No. 2 back behind starter DeAngelo Williams, a place he's held for most of his career with the Panthers.
He's also expected to split carries with Pro Bowl fullback Mike Tolbert and quarterback Cam Newton.
"Coach Rivera has us all in the backfield for a reason," Stewart said. "He believes we have different attributes to carry to the running game. However it plays out that week, that's how it plays out."