Panthers expect RB Barner to play against Arizona
Help is on the way for DeAngelo Williams.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera is optimistic rookie running back Kenjon Barner will see his first action Sunday when Carolina visits the Arizona Cardinals.
That should help ease the load on the 30-year-old Williams, who carried 62 times in three games.
Barner impressed in training camp with his breakaway speed, but a sprained foot sidelined him for the first month of the season. The sixth-round pick from Oregon returned to full practice this week.
Rivera says he'll use Barner as a "scat back" similar to how the New Orleans Saints use Darren Sproles.
"He's a guy with great hands out of the backfield," Rivera said. "He's an elusive runner when he gets the ball in his hands. He has home run potential out in open space and that's where you have some tough matchups."
Barner isn't the only Panther who benefited from the bye week rest. Cornerbacks Josh Thomas and James Dockery also returned to practice.
Rivera is hopeful Barner will bring more offense to a team that beat the New York Giants 38-0 on Sept. 22.
Barner will make his NFL debut at University of Phoenix Stadium, the same field where he wrapped up his college football career by helping the Ducks to a 35-17 Fiesta Bowl win over Kansas State earlier this year.
"I've been anxious to get back,' Barner said. "I've been nervous. I've irritated, annoyed and everything that you can be. So to finally have the opportunity to step out on that field I'm extremely excited. I want to bring some energy to the team."
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said he's been anxious to see Barner play and is hoping for big things from the rookie.
"I think he's ready," Newton said.
While Williams is a powerful back built for durability, Barner's speed gives the Panthers a great change of pace back.
Center Ryan Kalil said the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Barner reminds him of Sproles, not only because of his size but because of his shiftiness and his breakaway speed.
"I'm really interested to see what he can do for us," Kalil said.
Barner said he learned his lesson from the preseason about holding on to the football. He had the ball stripped from him when he carried it too loose in his hands.
He's been working on not allowing that to happen again.
"You have to learn from it or it will continue to happen," Barner said. "You don't want to at any stage or any level get the stigma that you fumble. Once you get that, everybody starts reaching at the ball and the more people reaching at the ball, the more likely you are to fumble. So you definitely better learn fast."
The Panthers are also getting closer getting even more help in the backfield.
Former first-round draft pick Jonathan Stewart is eligible to return for the team's Oct. 20 game against the St. Louis Rams. He's currently on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list with a foot injury.
Stewart began straight-ahead running earlier this week, but Rivera said it's too early to know when he'll play again.
Not everyone returned to practice since the bye though. The Panthers are still waiting on safety Quintin Mikell (knee), cornerback D.J. Moore (knee) and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (thigh) to return.
NOTES: Rivera said Chase Blackburn is ahead of Jon Beason on the depth chart at weak side linebacker. ... DE Greg Hardy sat out Wednesday with an illness, while rookie DT Kawann Short left practice early after turning his ankle.