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Carolina Panthers

Stewart catches on


CHARLOTTE - After running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams and wide receiver Legedu Naanee finished catching some passes from the JUGS machine after Thursday's practice, Williams shared a theory with Naanee on how to get balls thrown his way come game day.

"Stick close to this guy," Williams said, motioning toward Stewart.

Stewart has been a magnet for passes so far this season, so much so that he's on the verge of breaking a couple of franchise records.

In 2004, Nick Goings caught 45 passes for 394 yards – both Panthers records for running backs. With three games to go, Stewart has 42 catches for 387 yards.

"With this team, you've got a lot of egos, and you just keep hearing Stew on the practice field saying how good his hands are," Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said with a smile. "He kind of negotiated his way into getting a lot more passes, let's just say that."

Joking aside, Stewart said "it's kind of irrelevant" why he's become the favored target out of the backfield, though it is certainly notable. Stewart caught 34 passes in his first three years with the Panthers and 49 in three seasons at the University of Oregon.

What's more relevant is that while Stewart and Williams combined to average 32 catches over their first three seasons together with the Panthers, they've caught 54 through 13 games this season - and it's making a difference for the offense.

"The running backs as receivers put on more pressure from a defensive standpoint because those linebackers have to come down and cover us, which in turn can open up something over the top," Williams said. "All in all, it works out for everybody."

!It especially has worked out for Stewart, who caught eight passes for 100 yards in Week 2 against Green Bay, tying the franchise record for receptions by a running back and joining Williams as the only back in franchise history to reach 100 receiving yards in a game.

"When you get the opportunity to get the ball in your hands and make plays, you always enjoy that," Stewart said. "At running back these days, you have to be able to run, receive and block. It's one of the things that you practice and prepare yourself to do, and this year I've gotten those opportunities with this offense in the game."

Williams said he and Stewart each catch 45 passes after practice from the JUGS machine in a typical week to prepare for the possibility. It's not as easy to prepare for what a back sees on game day when he catches a pass in the flat, but Stewart has shown a real knack for it this season.

"It's different," Stewart said. "You have to have a different type of awareness of where people are on the field when you catch the ball, as opposed to running the ball from the backfield and seeing what's in front you before you hit it."

Stewart has been hitting the holes hard this season, and he soon should hit the record book as well.

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