SPARTANBURG, S.C. - Fozzy Whittaker believes the running back group is the tightest-knit unit on the Panthers' roster.
"We're usually around each other, talking about football, talking about family, doing things outside of football," Whittaker said. "We're very close."
The group is close on the depth chart as well.
Jonathan Stewart is entrenched as the starter, but Whittaker, rookie Cameron Artis-Payne and veteran newcomer Jordan Todman are trying to carve out their niche along with undrafted rookie Brandon Wegher.
"There's always competition," Whittaker said. "I'm always competing with everybody. The same pressure that somebody may feel from me, I'm feeling it from them as well. They're pushing me to get better just as I'm, hopefully, pushing them to be their best."
Whittaker has a leg up on the competition, having recorded a productive season in the Panthers' system – in stark contrast to where he stood this time last year. Stewart and DeAngelo Williams led the way a year ago, and Whittaker was an afterthought, having been signed as a free agent early in training camp because of injuries at the position.
Whittaker changed that perception quickly with a remarkable training camp and preseason.
"Being here all of last year and all of the offseason and getting all the knowledge and terminology down and what the coaches want out of me, that makes a huge difference," Whittaker said. "It allows me to better my role on this team and help this team positively."
In between all the time spent with his running mates, Whittaker found time for his soulmate. Shortly before training camp opened, he proposed to Jasmine Clayton at SeaWorld in San Antonio, arranging for a beluga whale to deliver a buoy inscribed with the phrase, "Will you marry me?" to his now-fiancé.
"It was definitely a memorable moment," Whittaker said. "She said yes."