Committment to ground game excites Biakabutuka
SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) -- Carolina Panthers running back Tshimanga Biakabutuka is a happy man.
The team has overhauled its woeful offensive line since last season, and head coach George Seifert says he wants the team to run the ball more.
"George is talking a different language," Biakabutuka said Friday at the Panthers camp. "He wants to run the ball more and establish the running game. And we've finally got the guys now up front to do it -- that's the main difference between last season."
Last season was a disaster offensively for the Panthers.
They averaged just 3.3 yards per carry and finished 29th in the NFL in rushing. As a result of their inability to run the ball, defenses were able to tee off on quarterback Steve Beuerlein in obvious passing situations. The offensive line allowed a league-high 69 sacks, causing the team's West Coast offense to sputter.
Gone are center Frank Garcia, guard Matt Campbell and left tackle Clarence Jones. Those spots have been filled by three unrestricted free agents: two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Todd Steussie from the Minnesota Vikings, center Jeff Mitchell from the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and run-blocking guard Kevin Donnalley from the Miami Dolphins.
"Last year's guys were hard workers, but this year's group is just more gifted athletically," Biakabutuka said. "They are bigger and more athletic. And they're proven guys. They've played with good offensive lines in the past."
Seifert, who called 1,261 passing plays and 719 running plays the past two seasons, is emphasizing the importance of the running game this season during training camp.
At least, that's what the players are saying. When asked if the Panthers will place more emphasis on the running game, Seifert hedged a little and reverted to his pass-first upbringings.
"I guess if you have some success with some running plays and if we can do things well, then we'll lean on them more," Seifert said. "But if I see a back run into the line of scrimmage and gain 1 yard, my mentality has always been, 'Why waste all that energy on 1 yard when you have a chance to throw a touchdown pass, right?'"
Added Seifert: "I think to suggest that we're not going to throw the ball a lot would be wrong."
Biakabutuka comes into the season first on the depth chart, but will be pushed for playing time by veteran Richard Huntley and sixth-round draft pick Dee Brown.
One of the reasons the Panthers signed Huntley is Biakabutuka's injuries. In his five seasons in the league, Biakabutuka has never played in more than 11 games and has never posted a 1,000-yard season.
"I've been a bust since I've been in the league," Biakabutuka said. "[The critics] have reason to say that. I have reason to prove them wrong. But the guys up front are working hard and they are aggressive. We're going to do some things this year.
"This year, I'm going to get less hits and take less of a beating than I have in the past years because of the guys we have up front. Those guys are going to block harder," he said.