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Carolina Panthers

Ask Bryan: Stewart running the show

Is Cameron Artis-Payne going to continue to be inactive or is he in line for some touches? Also, how's Fozzy? – Akil via Twitter
Why haven't we seen Brandon Wegher so far in regular season? – Jordan in Thomasville, N.C.

The Panthers prominently featured two running backs whenever both Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams were healthy in recent seasons. But when either Stewart or Williams was hurt, the healthy back typically got the lion's share of the carries.

So it shouldn't be that big a surprise that with Williams no longer on the team, Stewart has assumed a dominant role early.


"As we go through this early portion of the season, we're going to try to feel our way through things and get into a rhythm with players," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Right now one of the rhythms is that Jonathan has taken as many snaps as he has."

Rivera understands that to succeed in this league over the course of an entire season, you need more than one capable runner. The Panthers have talent behind Stewart that they can and will call upon, but no one behind Stewart can match his talent and experience. His history of orchestrating the zone read with quarterback Cam Newton is invaluable.

Whittaker is the one back – besides fullback Mike Tolbert - to get touches behind Stewart so far, and he's been used to give Stewart a rest and as a change-of-pace option. Artis-Payne and Wegher both enjoyed productive preseasons, but both are rookies still learning the game.

Would Rivera like to get them involved? Absolutely. But there are only so many offensive snaps to go around and so many gameday roster spots. Artis-Payne was among the 46 active players in the opener but was inactive in Week 2 in part because the Panthers wanted to get a look at what recently acquired wide receiver Kevin Norwood could do. Especially if wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery is out this week and defensive starters Luke Kuechly and Star Lotulelei are able to return to action, it will be hard to find a spot for either of the rookie running backs. One way or the other, though, their time will come.

What's the status of Jerricho Cotchery's injury? – William in Charlotte

Cotchery came off the field gingerly after suffering an ankle injury on Carolina's third series Sunday. He returned in the second quarter and recorded an 11-yard reception but was eventually shut down for the day.

"My understanding is that it was a high ankle sprain. He came back and played on it, and then it got stiff so we sat him down," Rivera said. "If we had gotten into an emergency situation, he might have been able to come back, but at that point we just sat him.

"High ankle sprains tend to linger, but the fact that he was able to come back and play on it like he did before it got stiff, the doctors are hopeful that he'll be ready to go this week."

Simply put, it's too early to say.

What are the chances Brenton Bersin is called up this week? – Justin via Twitter

If Cotchery can't go, Bersin is a player capable of filling in for him in the slot, but it's not quite that simple. Because Bersin is on the practice squad, putting him on the field for Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints would require cutting someone from the 53-man roster. As I look at the roster, there are virtually no players that the Panthers would be comfortable exposing to the possibility of being picked up by another team. Now if it turns out that Cotchery's injury is likely to linger for weeks, that could force the team's hand.

Incidentally, the Panthers again have two wide receivers on the practice squad. They re-signed rookie Damiere Byrd to the squad Tuesday and terminated linebacker Brian Blechen to make room. Byrd had been terminated Saturday to make room for offensive tackle Pierce Burton.

The stadium started a new cheer Sunday, with one side chanting "Keep!" and the other side chanting "Pounding!" What was the reaction of the coaches and players when they heard this cheer? – Robert in Charlotte

I haven't had a chance to ask any players, and I'm pretty isolated from sights and sounds in the press box. But from what I've heard from a couple of co-workers who were on the sidelines with the players, the fans were loud and into it. Sounds like it was a hit, and one that certainly should resonate again this week against the Saints, the franchise that Sam Mills played for before becoming a Panthers legend and eventually delivering his famed "Keep Pounding" speech.

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