CHARLOTTE – Running back DeAngelo Williams missed being on the field with his teammates the last two games, but he isn't that worried about whether the Panthers' running game missed him.
For Williams, who is expected to go from being sidelined with a hamstring injury to being the central figure in the recently struggling run game, it's about winning games.
And it isn't really about how the Panthers win games.
"We're 2-1. In the last game if we were struggling (running the ball) but we were 3-0, we'd be talking about the pass game," Williams said. "As long as we're winning football games, whatever aspect we're struggling with we will try to beef up, but schematically, defenses key in. They say, 'We're going to stop the run today. We'll bend a little bit in the pass game. Or, they say, 'We'll stop the pass and bend a little bit in the run game.'
"So based on the statistics, you look at it and say, 'Hey, they came to stop the run.' "
If the Panthers decide that a heavy reliance on their running game is the best path to victory Sunday at the Baltimore Ravens, then they'll rely heavily on Williams. Fullback Mike Tolbert is out with a knee injury, and running backs Jonathan Stewart (knee) and Fozzy Whittaker (quad) are yet to practice this week.
Thursday, in Williams' second day back to full participation in practice, he was joined in running back drills by undrafted rookie Darrin Reaves and practice squad addition Tauren Poole.
Reaves was signed off the Panthers' practice squad Saturday with Williams and Whittaker unavailable, and Reaves got five snaps the next day in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I'm just trying to get better every day," said Reaves, an early training camp standout for the Panthers before being sidelined by a leg injury. "The progress I've made in the playbook has me a step faster. I feel like I'm a smarter, more mentally sound player that I was when I first came here."
The mental aspect of Poole's game attracted the Panthers to him. They had signed rookie Lache Seastrunk to the practice squad on September 16 but replaced him Thursday with Poole, who was on the team's practice squad for three games last year and spent all of 2012 with Carolina, albeit on injured reserve.
"We went back and looked at his tape when he was with us and looked at his tape from this preseason when he was with Pittsburgh, and we sat down and talked to him. The coaches feel really good about his retention," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Lache is an explosive athlete, but he just doesn't know our system. I don't want to say it's complicated, but he wasn't going to be able to pick it up in less than a week. And then knowing that Tauren was out there, we decided to bring him in."
Rivera hasn't yet decided if Reaves, Poole or both will join Williams on the active list Sunday for the Ravens game, but he has decided that Richie Brockel, officially listed as a tight end, will see more snaps at fullback in place of Tolbert.
"Richie can protect, he's a good lead blocker, and he's got good hands out of the backfield," Rivera said. "He's not as nimble a runner as Tolbert, though. That's where the difference is."
Even with all the questions in the backfield, the focus Sunday will be on whether Williams can be a difference maker coming off his injury.
He's certainly itching to try.
"You don't necessarily take it for granted, but when it's taken away from you, that's when you find out how much you really miss it," Williams said. "Being away for two weeks, not being out there with my teammates, it felt awful just sitting on the sideline and watching them have fun doing what I love to do.
"I'm very confident. I'm very confident in our running game. I'm very confident in our passing game. I'm very confident in our special teams and defense."