Position preview: Running backs

Since the beginning of the 2008 season, the Panthers have more rushing yards than any other NFL team.

But in some ways, this is a new beginning.

That seven-year run featured both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart in the backfield, but Williams is now with the Pittsburgh Steelers while Stewart is in the lead role. Here's a look at the players, who along with Stewart, will seek to keep Carolina on top this season.

RETURNERS

Jonathan Stewart
With Williams injured, Stewart rushed for 486 yards over the final five regular season games in 2014 – five yards behind DeMarco Murray for the  most in the NFL during that stretch. … Counting the playoffs, Stewart topped 100 yards in three of his final six games. He had last reached 100 yards in 2010. … Missed three games with a knee injury but ended the season with a career-high eight starts.

Mike Tolbert
Looking to return to 2013 form that earned the fullback his first Pro Bowl selection. … Missed eight games last season with a hairline fracture in his knee. … His return from injured reserve/designated for return coincided with Stewart's end-of-season explosion.

Fozzy Whittaker
Added to fill the 90th roster spot at the beginning of training camp in 2014, Whittaker ended up scoring arguably the most important touchdown of the season. … With Carolina trailing Arizona late in the third quarter of their NFC Wild Card game, he turned a screen pass into a 39-yard touchdown for a lead the Panthers never relinquished. … Positioned to compete for backup role behind Stewart.

Darrin Reaves
Undrafted rookie in 2014 spent 10 games on practice squad but played in six games with one start when injuries opened the door. … Rushed for 78 yards and added five catches for 31 yards.

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ROOKIES

Cameron Artis-Payne
Fifth-round draft pick from Auburn could challenge Whittaker for backup role behind Stewart. … Familiar with the zone read from his two seasons at Auburn. … Shined as a senior, pacing the Southeastern Conference with 1,608 rushing yards. … The 25-year-old didn't play football for two years after high school/prep school.

Brandon Wegher
Undrafted rookie was out of football for three years but made up for lost time last season with NAIA records of 2,610 rushing yards and 43 total touchdowns at Morningside College. … Set a freshman record at Iowa in 2009 with eight rushing touchdowns, then didn't play football again until enrolling at Morningside in 2013.

Lee Ward
Undrafted rookie is a bruising blocking fullback who played in 49 games at Stanford. … Helped the Cardinal rank in the top 25 nationally in rushing three times. … Got just one carry in college but showed in high school that he can run the ball.

RECENTLY ROSTERED

Jordan Todman
Played in 32 games with three starts for Jacksonville the past two seasons, totaling 442 rushing yards and 314 receiving yards on 39 receptions. … Ranked eighth in the NFL in 2014 with a 25.6-yard kickoff return average and tied for second on team with seven special teams tackles.

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