Carolina Panthers

Slowing down was key to speeding up Williams' development into NFL player

Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams has seen his role in the offense gradually increase this season.
Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams has seen his role in the offense gradually increase this season. The Charlotte Observer

CHARLOTTE -- The more DeAngelo Williams slows down, the faster things are coming.

The Carolina Panthers' backup running back's workload keeps gradually increasing, but it's doing so because his grasp of what it takes to be an NFL running back has, too.

As he develops his vision, his blocking skills and all the little things that have seemingly nothing to do with running, the amount of chances he gets to do so is growing.

"I just see him becoming more consistent," coach John Fox said. "And this thing is a lot about accountability."

As such, he saw his most extensive work of the season last week, a 17-carry, 82-yard day in the win over San Francisco. Williams said he's happy to take on whatever role the team sees fit behind starter DeShaun Foster, but acknowledged he's feeling more confident lately.

"If it happens, it happens," Williams replied when asked about the possibility of taking over as the guy down the road. "I just try to do what it takes for the team to win. I try to be productive and consistent, because consistency matters in this league.

"Whether you're the starter or the backup, it takes a total team effort to win a football game, not just one player."

Running backs coach Jim Skipper has long been a proponent of the need for a pair of qualified backs, whether it was Stephen Davis and Foster or Foster and Williams.

And while Foster's having a solid season, the pair of them have the Panthers 14th in the league in rushing, without much help from their 28th-ranked passing game.

Foster has 203 carries for 728 yards (3.6 per), while Williams has 96 attempts for 468 yards (4.9). They also are close in rushing plays of 10 yards or more, with Foster holding a 19-18 edge despite twice the attempts.

Still, Williams is a smallish guy, listed generously at 5-foot-9 and 217 pounds. Teammates tease him that draw plays are good for him, since he can hide easily behind linemen.

"I told them I'm average," he said with a laugh.

But even though he's perceived in some quarters as a change-of-pace back, there's evidence to show he's capable of carrying more of the load if needed. In the nine games in his career in which he's gotten 10 carries or more, his per-rush average is more than a yard higher than in short bursts (4.47-3.29).

"Well, really it's the ability that counts," Skipper said. "You'd like to have big guys and all that, but hey, if you can make plays, you can make plays. Look at Barry Sanders, he wasn't the biggest guy, but he was an explosive runner.

"It's the same situation. He's big enough. His size is not a factor at all."

Skipper also said Williams has made great strides in pass protection in his second year, a factor that kept him off the field as much as anything in the past. Skipper's long believed that Foster's one of the better pass-blockers he's worked with, but said Williams has "closed that gap."

"He understands exactly what's going on, and he steps up pretty tough," Skipper said. "He's a good pass-blocker. You've got to know protection, and how to do it against different looks.

"That's the heaviest mental load on a guy, especially a rookie or a young player. But that's no longer an issue."

Likewise, Williams is learning he has to set up blocks, that he can't just slam into a hole as he did before he got to Carolina.

"Coming out of college and high school, you were always taught, hit the hole as fast as you can, blowing and going," Williams said. "At this level, you can't do that. You've got to wait and set blocks up, got to make guys go left or right. You've got to make them do what you want them to do to be successful in this league.

"I'm slowly catching on or I've caught onto that now. I'm slowing myself down in the backfield."

And as he holds up, he's speeding up, showing the kind of explosiveness that made him the NCAA's all-time leader in all-purpose yardage at Memphis, and made the Panthers use last year's first-round pick on him.

"Really, when you first come in as a rookie, you're getting so much thrown at you, it's a heavy mental load," Skipper said. "It takes guys a while to understand things, they're feeling their way through. This is his second year, he's been to training camp, he knows exactly what's going on. So there's no hesitation, and now his natural ability can show.

"He knows exactly what's going on, and it shows on the field. There's no hesitation in his game."

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