Carolina Panthers

Foster poised for breakout 2007 season

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Comfortable's about the last word you'd use to describe DeShaun Foster when it comes to talking about his game.

That's exactly what he looked on the field Saturday in the Carolina Panthers' 24-21 win over New York at Giants Stadium.

The Panthers starter rushed five times for 62 yards, and seemed poised to shake off the mantle of "potential" that has hung over him the last five seasons.

"I just wanted to get out there and play ball," Foster said after the game, in his first comments to reporters this year. "The O-line's blocking well, and it worked out."

Foster didn't show and hasn't shown much interest in expounding too much about the Panthers' running game, stealing a page from the playbook of his former mentor, Stephen Davis. It's not an adversarial relationship he has with the media, he's just gone to lengths to avoid talking all summer.

Perhaps that's because he got tired of talking about the injuries that have defined and limited his career, but there's also an element of him that doesn't want to rip past administrations just because the current offense seems to suit him so well.

"Last year was disappointing for us, and we came out motivated a little bit this year, and we're just going to keep running," Foster explained.

He wasn't the only one enjoying the newfound running attack, as the team ran 31 times for 154 yards on the night. He and Nick Goings combined for 112 of those yards in the first half, giving the clear impression the Panthers' running game was set to rebound from last year's 103.7 yards per game (24th in the league).

One change has been the institution of a new zone-blocking scheme, but it's apparent some of the players are already tired of talking about that. It's not as if new coordinator Jeff Davidson invented it, or that it's a magic bullet, but boiled down to simple terms, it gives the Panthers' athletic linemen and cut-back runners a better chance to excel.

"It hasn't changed that drastically," fullback Brad Hoover said. "That's the thing. Everybody's making it sound like we've made a drastic change. We haven't. There have been a few things changed, and it's just getting guys used to it. But we've gotten used to it pretty quick, and comfortable with it and now we're just getting a chance to showcase it.

"That's what we want to see (the cutbacks). It's not that that's what we're looking for, but if there's a cut-back there, they're going to take that. They've got good enough vision to take advantage of those things, and we're just trying to get a hat on a hat and let them go where they go, front side or back side, wherever they make yards is what we want to do."

Right tackle Jordan Gross said they were running "a fair amount" of zone plays, but left guard Mike Wahle said the form wasn't nearly as important as the function. The Panthers have placed an emphasis on fixing their run game since the start of training camp, with more physical practices the first two weeks than in recent years. And the difference finally showed Saturday against the Giants.

"Yeah, we're all real excited about this offense, we've been saying that since day one," Wahle said. "It's not going to be all peaches and cream every time out, but we feel like if we work hard, we feel like we have the potential to do some good things. The cut-backs are certainly a big part of what we do. The freedom the backs have with some of these zone plays are tremendous, and we ran a couple man plays, outside runs that broke off and were good for us.

"We've got a lot of good things going on, we've got to keep working hard, and having an outing like this certainly gets us motivated to go out and practice that much harder next week, because we know what we're capable of."

And while much of the attention this offseason has gone to the gregarious DeAngelo Williams (who sat out Saturday with a stiff ankle), it's the quiet Foster who'll get the bulk of the work. He's shown he can be a big-time back in the past (such as big runs down the stretch and in the playoffs in 2003 and 2005), but there's a growing feeling among his teammates he's about to have a breakout year.

He's obviously thrilled at the prospect.

"You just get a chance to run, really" Foster said quietly, as he says everything if there's a tape recorder or a camera around. "So you just do that. Any time they call your number you're going to be excited, and that's what they're doing."

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