Jonathan Stewart questionable for Panthers camp


Faced with salary-cap issues, the Carolina Panthers were expected by some to part with veteran running back DeAngelo Williams early this offseason.

That move never happened, ostensibly because Williams is needed as insurance after Jonathan Stewart underwent surgery on both ankles.

As the Panthers closed out offseason practices in June, general manager Dave Gettleman was unable to provide a timetable for Stewart's return. Now coach Ron Rivera acknowledges that Stewart is questionable for the start of training camp later this month.

Despite a history of foot troubles, Stewart had missed just two games in his career before the twin ankle injuries limited him to nine games last season. After handing him a five-year, $36.5 million extension last August, the Panthers have to be concerned about their investment.

Stewart averaged a career-low 3.6 yards per carry last season, compared with a career mark of 4.7 -- which is good for sixth among active running backs. The early-season high-ankle sprain clearly sapped his explosiveness, as his film showed no playmaking ability for a back who previously was one of the NFL's most freakishly athletic and powerful runners.

Stewart's status will be one of the stories to track this summer. Can he return to his 2011 form, or have the chronic foot and ankle issues left him with an older back's body?

The improved play of Cam Newton and the defensive front seven were highly encouraging signs down the stretch last season. If the Panthers can add a healthy Stewart to the mix, they will be my pick as the surprise playoff team in the NFC.

Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.