CHARLOTTE – Running back Jonathan Stewart is adjusting to change. It began when he walked into the locker room on the first day of offseason workouts and realized he had a new neighbor. It continued when he stepped up to the podium in the interview room, also a career first.
Things are obviously different now that DeAngelo Williams – Carolina's all-time leading rusher – is with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"It's going to be weird," Stewart said. "Just coming up here today for the first team workouts and my locker buddy was gone after seven years. Obviously, it's different, but it's part of the business."
"It's a different situation with what transpired this offseason," Stewart added. "When things like that happen, it opens opportunities for other people."
Last season, Stewart surged at the end of the year and helped carry the Panthers into the postseason. He finished with 809 yards in 13 games– his highest rushing output since 2009, his second NFL season.
Williams battled injuries, playing in just six games and rushing for 219 yards – a career-low. The Panthers released Williams in March.
"Every year you are prepared for the nature of the situation that we are in," Stewart said. "It's a production business. But when things like that happen, there is no easy format to deal with it."
Stewart and Williams were famously nicknamed "Double Trouble," with Williams regularly getting the starting nod when both were healthy. Now Stewart, who has 28 career starts, is entering a season in which he is the unquestioned feature back.
"Every year I have had the mindset while training, working out or practicing like (I was) the No. 1 back," Stewart said. "You never know when your number is going to be called to do that."
It's too early to know what the responsibilities of the No. 1 running back will be. Will Stewart serve as a workhorse running back, occasionally spelled by Fozzy Whittaker and Mike Tolbert? Will the Panthers draft a rookie to split carries? It all remains to be seen.
But Stewart is open to whatever helps Carolina collect victories.
"Honestly, I just want to win games," Stewart said. "Whatever that plan is – whether it's me getting a boatload of carries or a minimum, or whatever the game plan is for that week – I'll be down for it."