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Carolina Panthers

Chuba Hubbard, Laviska Shenault Jr. look to capitalize on running back reps

Chuba Hubbard

CHARLOTTE – The Panthers' running back rotation has been worth watching in the last two weeks.

Perhaps there's not too much to derive from Chuba Hubbard taking eight more snaps than Miles Sanders in Week 4 or just one more in Week 5, particularly when Sanders has nearly double the amount of attempts this season (61 to 35).

But Carolina's staff is working out its personnel packages, seeing what fits in where and how in this early-season melding process. Hubbard's 4.4 yards per attempt average (154 yards on 33 carries) is the most efficient mark of a true running back on the roster.

Chuba Hubbard

"Whatever opportunity I get, I'm going to try to make the most of it," Hubbard said. "Glad I'm able to be a part of the offense. Like I've always said, got a great scheme, got a great O-line, great everything around us. So I'm just trying to make the most of it."

Sanders hasn't gotten off to the cleanest start either, fumbling twice this season, including a momentum-shifting drop last week at Detroit, which could have played a role in his one-snap differential with Hubbard.

Sanders came back from the Lions game with a shoulder injury that held him out of practice Wednesday, leaving opportunities for Hubbard and wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr., who has been operating as a combination wideout-running back with his 6-foot-1, 220-pound frame.

"Chuba has been a very good physical runner; he's had good yards after contact," head coach Frank Reich said Wednesday. "He's a good player. He's just been a good player for us.

"Laviska, same thing, he's kind of a power runner. Like, he's a big, strong man. He's dragging guys through the hole, and he's elusive on top of it. So he's been in that hybrid position where he can play receiver; we can put him in the backfield. We'll continue to do both."

Reich has said he has witnessed an "ebb and flow" with the running backs in his past experience. Sanders was acquired in free agency to be the playmaker, Reich said, but he has also appreciated the effort he's seen from Hubbard.

Hubbard's 21-yard rush in Week 1 against the Falcons remains the Panthers' longest attempt by a running back on the season.

Shenault has also added some variety to the offensive playbook, and he said he has grown more comfortable with a hybrid running back role as the season has progressed, calling the backfield a place where he has "always had a sweet spot."

"I feel like (rushing) is the easiest thing when it comes to mental," Shenault said. "Like, I'm getting the ball. …

"When I say running back's the easiest for me, (it's) because I'm used to touching it a lot. I like to get the ball in my hands. I have the opportunity to make guys miss and do that. I feel like that's what I do at a high level. And it works out well."

It worked out well for Shenault when he put up a pair of solid runs in Detroit.

Shenault drove the offense into first-and-goal when he took an 11-yard rush to the 8-yard line early in the second quarter. He almost punched in his first touchdown of the season on a 7-yard run one play later, bringing a reverse pitch to the 1-yard line.

Laviska Shenault Jr.

Shenault said he left that play feeling like he should have done more, but liked more of what he showed once he reviewed the tape.

"It was like, 'Maybe I could have done something else,' but it was three people, right?" he said. "But that's just my mentality. I just always want to be better."

This week, Shenault is looking to see continued opportunities to get on the field and get the ball. He said he likes being versatile because he hopes to see it translate into more touches. And with his snap count steadily rising from Week 3 to Week 5 (14 percent, 18 percent, 24 percent), Shenault is heading in the right direction.

Hubbard said he feels the same each week regardless of the plan's complexity or simplicity. He's preparing to do what he can – just like they all are.

"No matter what the game plan is, I go in with the same mindset every single week," Hubbard said. "Obviously to execute, no matter what it is – complex or easy. (I) study the defense and just go from there."

View photos from the Panthers' practice on Wednesday.

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