Fiammetta growing into position

CHARLOTTE – Panthers fullback Tony Fiammetta touched the ball half as many times last Sunday at Seattle as he had in his entire NFL career, but talk after the game centered on the play where he was supposed to touch the ball but didn't.

With the Panthers leading 14-10 midway through the third quarter, quarterback Jimmy Clausen threw a screen pass behind Fiammetta that Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu intercepted and returned for a touchdown, helping propel them to a 31-14 victory.

"It was just a route to the flat, and I guess he had a good beat on the route and knew it was coming. He just played it smart, and he got a pick-six," Fiammetta said. "Hats off to him making that play, but we can't have that happen anymore."

For Fiammetta, a second-year player, striving to not make the same mistake twice has been a key to his growth. A year ago, he played behind legendary Panthers fullback Brad Hoover, and now he's slowly but surely emerging from Hoover's long shadow.

"He was definitely open to teaching me anything I wanted to learn," Fiammetta said of Hoover, a fan favorite for a 10 years who was released following the 2009 season. "For him to get that far, it takes more than just skill. It takes every day in and day out doing the right things, and I learned how to act off the field and on the field.

"I feel like I still have some things to learn, which experience will give me. I'm trying to take every day in practice and every situation I see in the game and get better. I know I'm going to keep getting better."

The Panthers' level of trust when it comes to giving Fiammetta the ball appears to be increasing. They occasionally got the ball to Hoover, a tailback in college, and now they're doing a little more of the same with Fiammetta, a tailback in high school.

Fiammetta had three receptions for 17 yards and three carries for 14 yards in 21 games before Sunday. Against the Seahawks, he caught two passes for 17 yards in addition to a 3-yard rush.

"I played tailback in high school. I was a straight-line guy -- didn't really have a lot of jukes," said Fiammetta, a graduate of Walkersville (Md.) High School who went on to play at Syracuse. "I kind of knew when I was in high school that with my size and speed, playing fullback would be the best way for me to get a college scholarship."

Even with a few chances to touch the ball last Sunday, Fiammetta understands that's nowhere near his primary job. He's usually in the game to block for the running game -- a running game that has topped 100 yards in five consecutive games now after failing to do so five times over the first seven games.

Although he hasn't always been a blocking back first, he's always had the mentality for it.

"Whatever sport I played, whether it was lacrosse or wrestling or football, I always had that physical mentality," Fiammetta said. "It was an adjustment to be the guy out there blocking, but it's a lot of fun, too."

Hoover made the adjustment from tailback to fullback even later in the game than Fiammetta, and Hoover eventually thrived, often earning a serenade of "Hoov!" from the Bank of America Stadium crowd.

Fiammetta is still working toward that standard – with or without a cool cheer.

"There's a lot of instinct at this position, but experience is going to help me see the bigger picture," Fiammetta said. "I'm still seeing new things, and I'm just taking note of everything I see.

"I've never really had a cheer like that. I don't know if the fans could figure something out. I've got a little longer name than Hoover."

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