Jonathan Stewart (28) is out for at least the first five games of the 2013 season.
In what has been a thankfully quiet training camp and exhibition season so far for Carolina, the Panthers have suffered their first major loss.
Jonathan Stewart can be a beast when he's healthy -- remember that 206-yard game against the Giants in 2009? -- but he hasn't been healthy for awhile now. Stewart was placed on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list Tuesday, meaning he will miss at least the first five games of the season.
His absence certainly isn't unexpected, but it is the most dangerous thing that has happened to the Panthers in the past couple of months. It's more significant than firing Geoff Hangartner or juggling No.3 wide receivers or figuring out that neither Joe Adams nor Edmund Kugbila will play for Carolina in 2013.
Stewart may not play the whole year, either -- there's no certainty that five games (and one bye) worth of missed games will get him healed. If he doesn't play, then DeAngelo Williams sure better not get hurt. I'm fine with Mike Tolbert as a change-of-pace back but not the primary one, and right now he's hurt too (although he may be ready by the Seattle game Sept.8). And Kenjon Barner, Armond Smith or Tauren Poole? That would be scary. I don't think any of them are ready for a significant role in the offense. Even scarier would be Cam Newton leading this team in rushing again, like he did last year, because that opens him up to too many hits.
Those who watch Panthers practice regularly have seen Stewart -- the Panthers' second all-time leading rusher behind Williams in both yards and rush TDs -- grimacing in pain even after slight exertion occasionally, so obviously he's not right. He had surgery on both ankles in the offseason. He also missed the final seven games of last year with injury problems. Like Jon Beason, he signed a huge contract extension not that long ago and has mostly been hurt since.
Running backs, of course, do not last forever -- especially those with Stewart's pounding inside style. He has always split carries and until last year always seemed to be ready for games, but that has changed. Stewart can play the piano beautifully by ear, but it's hard to find a melody in what's happening to him right now. Double Trouble is now in some trouble, as it's now down to Single Not-So-Much-Trouble and a whole lot of hoping.