CHARLOTTE – Distributing touches to the running backs isn't a touchy subject for Panthers head coach Ron Rivera.
He knows it's a topic of discussion with running back Jonathan Stewart nearing a return to the lineup, but he insists there's no reason for concern.
"Everybody wants to make an issue about who is getting touches and all that, I don't think it is going to be an issue," Rivera said. "I don't think it has ever really been an issue. It wasn't an issue before I got here and I don't expect it to be one now."
Starting running back DeAngelo Williams doesn't think it will be an issue either. He's used to sharing the load with Stewart, and if Stewart can help the Panthers win, he's all for it.
Williams and Stewart teamed in 2009 to become the first set of teammates in NFL history to each for more than 1,100 yards in the same year.
"What it all boils down to is winning," Williams said. "We're clicking on all cylinders right now and having Jonathan back adds to those cylinders. I don't see it as a negative.
"I think every running back wants to win. Whatever it takes to win the football game."
Williams, the team's leading rusher with 477 yards on 114 carries, missed practice for the second-consecutive day on Thursday with a quad injury. However, Rivera expects him to practice Friday and be ready to perform as the lead back against the Falcons on Sunday.
Behind Williams, Mike Tolbert has performed well as a short-yardage and goal line back, and rookie Kenjon Barner has been utilized in a scat-back role. Stewart's eventual return adds another proven, dynamic runner to the mix.
"I told (offensive coordinator) Mike (Shula) we are not going to change what we do," Rivera said. "Do it the way you've been doing it. Handle the game the way you need to handle it. Don't feel obligated. These guys are all professionals; they understand their roles."
PLAYING KEEP AWAY: Thanks in part to the strong running game, the Panthers lead the league in time of possession at 33:40 per game.
"Being able to run the ball and the quarterback's completion rate have been really good," Rivera explained. "You can keep the clock going and that means you've got the ball."
Carolina is tied for first in the NFL with 14 five-minute drives. The Panthers are converting 45.3 percent of third-down opportunities, which is good for fourth in the league, and their 10 three-and-outs are the fewest in the league.
The Carolina defense has helped time of possession as well, ranking 11th in third-down defense.
SWEET TO START: On Halloween, just being asked what it felt like to make his first NFL start last week at Tampa Bay made rookie cornerback Melvin White light up like a kid in a candy store.
"It's great to have the opportunity to be a starter in this league," White said with a wide smile. "I'm on the kickoff team, so normally I run down for that and then come off the field. To actually run down for kickoff and then stay on the field, it was a wonderful feeling."
White, who intercepted a pass in his NFL debut in Week 3, recorded four tackles against the Buccaneers. He's hopeful that he'll get the starting assignment again Sunday against Atlanta.
"I felt like I handled it well," White said. "Coach (Sean) McDermott came up to me after the game and told me that he liked the way I competed. He didn't think I shied away from anything, that no matter who was out there against me, I competed."